“Where were you Mamá, when all those horrible things were taking place in your city?” This question, put to Laura by her daughter Claudia, is what has drawn The Absent Sea’s protagonist back to the fictional town of Pampa Hundida at the start of novelist Carlos Franz’s exploration of the turbulent aftermath of Chile’s 1973 coup.
Pampa Hundida is a recurring setting for Franz’s work. He places it in the northern part of the country, an oasis hidden in the Atacama desert; he has described it as “above all, a region of the spirit.” In The Absent Sea’s opening pages the city is in the midst of La Diablada, Pampa Hundida’s annual religious festival. Costumed pilgrims from the region—“a disparate bewildering, arbitrary crowd”—come “to beseech and to celebrate, to plead and to dance” in an age-old collective reckoning with evil. After twenty years of self-imposed exile, Laura has returned for a reckoning of her own. She’s come to reclaim the same judicial post she left two decades before, and to face up to where she was when all those “horrible things” were happening in Pampa Hundida.
My review of The Absent Sea by Carlos Franz is now up at Words Without Borders.