Memories and doubts

Miguel Vitagliano’s dark, often desolate Golpe de aire explores how the death of a loved one mixes up past memories and present doubts


Golpe de Aire
Miguel Vitagliano
2004, Grupo Editorial Norma (Buenos Aires)
260 pages

Reviewed by Francisco Ferreira

AFTER prematurely losing her husband, Ponci, to cancer, Mercedes discovers by chance that he had a lover. These circumstances make her sink into a personal crisis which prompts her to re-evaluate her whole life. The search for his lover intertwines with memories and doubts about her marriage, unfinished financial dealings with her late husband’s associate, and with the new and painful loneliness of her day-to-day life.

At the same time, her son Ernesto, who is doing a PhD in literature in the US, is also affected by the death of his father. His relationships with his girlfriend Lisa, with his colleagues in the university, and even with himself, acquire a new context. Thus, his study of a mysterious Colombian child poet, María de las Estrellas, becomes an obsession that channels his existential crisis, which often finds expression through the child’s poems.

The plot of this novel unfolds in different chronological and geographical spaces that mix randomly following the memories and life experiences of the characters. The present in Buenos Aires and the US; the past through the memories of exile in Mexico – during the years of the Argentine dictatorship – or the beginning of the relationship between Mercedes and Ponci.

Mysterious nature

The plot gradually becomes dense as the book develops. Some of the secondary characters gain an increasing relevance, opening new doors to the story line. Among them stands out the lover, Beatriz, who acquires her own personality as she is gradually revealed to us. In this way, around the main characters, Mercedes and Ernesto – mother and son – and the great but absent protagonist, Ponci, husband and father respectively, develop the parallel, and divergent, stories of Beatriz, Fratelli the associate and friend with a shadow of suspicion hanging over him, his wife Dorita, or Blas, a friend of Ernesto who ends up running away from the US with his son then appears unexpectedly at Mercedes’ house in Buenos Aires.

One of the main characteristics of this novel is its mysterious nature. More is hidden than revealed to the reader, leaving plenty of room for the imagination to fill in the gaps, if these can be filled at all: Who is María de las Estrellas? What did happen between Ponci and Fratelli?, Why does Blas run away with his son?

This is a dark novel, often desolate, populated by characters that seem to be lost in their own lives. Few things happen, and the plot is based on the inner life of the protagonists, expressed mainly through minute details of the daily routine. These details acquire their meaning in their interaction with memories from the past, with doubts of the present; and with the constant presence of death, which provides an origin and context for the narrative.

Golpe de aire is a well-written book with well-defined characters. However, the plot moves very slowly at the beginning, and only starts to gain pace towards the end of the book, too close to its open-ended conclusion, which asks more questions than it provides answers for. Maybe this is the intention of the author.

Francisco Ferreira is a postgraduate student in London