‘Perla’ dramatic tale of the ‘disappeared’

PERLA. By Carolina De Robertis. Knopf. 236 pages. $25.95.

Reading “Perla” is like reading Romantic poetry. Carolina De Robertis’ whirling stream of storytelling either pulls the reader along or leaves you thrashing after the point of it.

The novel is a two-main-character drama about what happened to the “disappeared” and their families during the abductions, tortures and killings of tens of thousands over decades of bloody military rule in Argentina.

Perla is the daughter of a well-to-do military family who has to come to grips with discrepancies between what she has been taught and what she comes to believe.

It is at times emotional and wrenching, weaves in and out of imagination to a teetering abyss between fantasy and reality. And it’s edgy all right.

The other main character is a soaking phantom who sweats by the kiddie pool and eats only water, chomping as he swallows.

Not, in other words, your usual ghost.

At times De Robertis seems to force it.

The reader flows through haunting passages like “folded psyches” emptying out of a train station with their “implacable shadows,” then bumps straight up against “inaudible clicks and clacks.” Nah. Either it clicks and clacks or it’s inaudible. Pick.

By the time that Perla in narration is explaining how she has to circle and circle the “source” rather than go straight to it, the reader already has figured out where she is headed.

From there, a lot of the drama rests on wondering just what is going to happen with the ghost.

By and large, Perla is humanly and floridly told, as advertised.

It won’t appeal to everyone, but it has its appeal.

Reviewer Bo Petersen, a writer for The Post and Courier