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by Eduardo Sacheri and John Cullen, trans.
Other Press, October 2011
384 pages
ISBN: 1590514505

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Benjamín Chaparro has turned sixty and is retiring from his position as a deputy clerk in the Argentine judicial system. On the surface, at least, it has been an unremarkable career, though, given the years and the country in which it was passed, being unremarked may be considered some sort of success. Now, instead of attending his retirement lunch, Chaparro suddenly darts back to the Palace of Justice to borrow a typewriter. He will, he has decided, write a book.

The book he writes is the substance of THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES. In it, Chaparro returns to an early case that defined and shaped his own life. As part of his judicial duties 1968, Chaparro is called to the scene of a horrifying crime. A young woman has been found in her home, raped and murdered. In short order, the case is declared closed by another deputy clerk and a lieutenant in the homicide division - two workmen must have done it. They are, after all, dark-skinned and uneducated, and not even from Buenos Aires. Anyway, they have confessed and a cursory inspection of their injuries reveals why - they were beaten in custody.

Chaparro isn't having any. There has been no real investigation of the case and the workmen are clearly simply handy suspects. But more to the point, Chaparro was present when the woman's husband, Ricardo Morales, was given the news and witnessed the utter collapse of Morales' life and hopes. Chaparro feels he owes him something and that something should be the truth, if only because Morales has lost a great love of a kind that Chaparro longs for but cannot achieve.

Back he goes to the office, files a complaint against deputy clerk Romano and Lieutenant Sicora for beating up the prisoners and sees to their release. Romano is ultimately sacked and Chaparro has made a life-long enemy.

The narrative details what occurs in the case over a period of years, almost as if Chaparro only comes to life when there is a development in the case. And there are several. The true culprit is identified, then caught, tried, convicted, and subsequently and unaccountably released under an amnesty as a political prisoner. Chaparro discovers that he is in great danger and only thanks to the intervention of his binge-drinking but brilliant and politically astute assistant, Pedro Sandoval, and the help of a senior judge is he able to escape Buenos Aires for the relative safety of a far-northern province, to continue his career in obscurity. Through it all - through exile, disappointment, even marriage, he harbours an deep if unexpressed love for Irene Hornos, once an judicial intern, now a respected judge.

If the personal is political, then the obverse can also be true. It is for Chaparro, who is altogether non-political, but whose simple desire for justice makes him a target during the years of the Junta and the Dirty War. His flight to Jujuy, about as far from Buenos Aires as you can get without actually leaving Argentina, means he too disappears, though happily in a less violent and final a way than the tens of thousands who fell victim during that period.

THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES is an intensely moving story about a very ordinary man living through extraordinary times. The translation by John Cullen is brilliantly transparent, colloquial and convincing. A film based on the novel won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 2010. I have yet to see it, but if we have its success to thank for encouraging the publication of an English translation some six years after the original first appeared, then we owe the Academy our gratitude.

§ Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, October 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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