It’s March, 2001, the middle of the night. Perla is home alone, bowing out of an Uruguay vacation with her parents because she is in the middle of a university semester. She hears a noise downstairs in the living room and then silence. She creeps down, stopping in the kitchen to grab a knife. In the living room she finds a naked, dripping wet man curled up on a rug. There is no evidence of how he got in. She yells at him to leave but he is too weak to move. Perla eventually gives up trying to get the man to leave. He becomes her dripping houseguest.
So begins Perla by Carolina de Robertis. Who is this man? Perla asks if he is a ghost and he says yes. But does that mean he is really there or is he in Perla’s imagination? Over the course of the next several days Perla slowly faces up to who she is and who the people she calls her parents are.
This coming to terms with her past, her parents’ past, the past of her country, Argentina, is not easy. Perla has spent her entire life refusing to understand. Her father is a high ranking officer in the navy which means he was involved in the state-sponsored terrorism of the Dirty War. It means he was involved with assassinations and “disappearing” people. Neither her father nor mother talk about it and so Perla doesn’t either. She loses friends because of who her father is and just recently she left her boyfriend because she refused to acknowledge what her father had done. Perla holds on to the fact that her father loves her, that he read to her and sang to her and did all sorts of loving fatherly things for her as she grew up. He could not possibly have been involved in state-sponsored murder.
But the presence of this man on the rug, this man who never stops dripping, his
prsence was pushing at the dam I had erected to keep it out of my thoughts. This man’s presence was wet and heavy and seemed to have this effect, he threatened to collapse the dam so anything could pour into my mind, memories, urges, melted question marks. I was afraid of what would happen if he stayed here, who I would continue to become.
Perla must decide whether she will be destroyed by the lies she has been told over the years or whether she will be destroyed by the truth.
The story is compellingly told. There are two narrators, Perla and the man on the rug. The man on the rug doesn’t know why he is there, and his narrative tries to work out who Perla is as she tries to work out who she is too. Their two narratives come together beautifully in the end as both realize Perla’s origin.
Perla is a novel about the repercussions of a horrible time in Argentina’s history. It is a searching story and ultimately a healing story of love and rebirth. The story could so easily tilt into anger and hate or sappiness and pathos, but de Robertis does a marvelous job of staying clear of both. I very much enjoyed the book and highly recommend it.
Thanks to Litlove for sending me my copy. She too, has written about the book if you want to read a bit more about it.