Hades, Argentina

One book I was looking forward to in January was the debut novel by Daniel Loedel, called Hades, Argentina. I’ve been drawn to books set in South America lately (partially because my husband is Peruvian), and the title of this novel instantly piqued my interest. I picked it up a few weeks ago, and since I’ve been reading mainly Latinx fiction this month, it felt like a great time to dive in.

Hades, Argentina by Daniel Loedel
AudienceAdult
GenreLiterary Fiction, Magical Realism
SettingArgentina
Number of Pages291
Format I ReadHardcover
Original Publication DateJanuary 12, 2021

Official Summary

A decade after fleeing for his life, a man is pulled back to Argentina by an undying love.

It was the most obvious thing in the world that I’d follow her wherever she went. I always had.

In 1976, Tomás Oriilla is a medical student in Buenos Aires, where he’s moved in hopes of reuniting with Isabel, a childhood crush. But the reckless passion that has always drawn him is leading Isabel ever deeper into the ranks of young insurgents fighting an increasingly oppressive regime. As its thuggish milicos begin to disappear more and more people like her, she presents Tomás with a way to prove himself. As always, he’ll do anything for Isabel. But what exactly is he proving, and at what cost to them both?

It will be years before a summons back arrives for Tomás, now living as Thomas Shore in New York. But it isn’t a homecoming that awaits him so much as an odyssey into the past, an encounter with the ghosts that lurk there, and a reckoning with the fatal gap between who hes become and who he once aspired to be. Raising profound questions about the sometimes impossible choices we make in the name of love, Hades, Argentina is a gripping, brilliantly narrated literary debut. 

Review

Maybe I shouldn’t have been, if I’d read the summary a bit more closely, but I was surprised to discover that Hades, Argentina falls firmly into the genre of magical realism. I went into this book rather blind (something I’ve been doing more in the past several months), and I have to admit, I was taking things at face value for the first four or five chapters. At a certain point, I wondered if Tomás was hallucinating or if I’d stumbled upon some unexpected fantasy elements. Eventually I figured it out: this was magical realism.

I’m not particularly familiar with magical realism, and have only read a few novels which fall into that genre. After reading Hades, Argentina, I’m still not sure how I feel about the genre, either. I love the idea of it, and I like the somewhat disorienting quality of it. But at the same time, I find it can also be challenging and draining.

That succinctly sums up how I felt about Hades, Argentina: I love the concept of it, even though it was a bit difficult and emotionally involved for me. Tomás is forced to relive his painful past as a sort of hell – and I mean that quite literally. Whatever it was that caused him to flee his home country 10 years ago left him with some emotional scars, baggage he’s never quite worked through or gotten over. The book unfolds like a nonlinear timeline, with us readers learning about his 1970s past after seeing how distraught he is in 1986. But he’s too conscious of the future for these to be simple flashbacks. And if he’s truly reliving the past, is there anything he can do to change it?

If you know your South American history (which I don’t, so this was an educational read as much as a fun one), you may be aware that Argentina fell into a military dictatorship in 1976. The Proceso de Reorganización Nacional (National Reorganization Process) began with a coup that March, and the months and years that followed saw terrorism against civilians, use of torture, and forced disappearances. Tomás himself was disappeared by the end of 1976… but what was his involvement leading up to that?

Hades, Argentina is a rather political book, and it follows people who are highly active in pushing for their causes and their preferred leaders. Tomás is in love with Isabel, a political activist who pushes him to get involved, too. This novel offers a stark look at espionage, torture, and military dictatorships. It’s grim and can get quite ugly, so be prepared for a difficult read.

On the other hand, don’t let that scare you off from reading this book. It’s so important to read about diverse places, times, and situations. I often complain about how incomplete my education was, especially in terms of world history. My history classes were extremely U.S. focused, and I’m often astonished at how little I know about major events that happened around the world, even in the past century. Fiction is an excellent way to learn about world history in a way that is also entertaining and that inspires empathy. Frequently, this means learning about wars and conflicts, but as hard as that can be to read, it’s necessary to gain a fuller picture of the world. Though I didn’t exactly enjoy this novel, I appreciated the chance to learn about something so important that impacted so many people.

(Also, side note: There’s a lot of political turmoil happening in South America again now. Looking to their recent history can be informative of the movements going on today.)

Hades, Argentina isn’t quite my style of book. I don’t like reading about war and torture, and magical realism is a hard genre for me. But this is a beautifully written and eye-opening novel. Even more impressive that this is Daniel Loedel’s debut. I will certainly be reading more from him in the future.

Final Thoughts

Hades, Argentina is an experiential and well-written novel that dives into difficult themes in Argentina’s past, including dictatorships, torture, and what lengths we’ll go for a person we love. It’s a challenging but stunning debut, and I look forward to reading Daniel Loedel’s next book.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

About the Author

Photo by Sylvie Rosokoff

Daniel Loedel is a Senior Editor at Bloomsbury. Previously he was an editor at Simon and Schuster for eight years. The authors he has worked with have won or been nominated for the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize, the Booker Prize and many other accolades. Prior to becoming a book editor and moving to Brooklyn, he lived in Buenos Aires. Hades, Argentina, his first novel, was inspired by his half-sister, who was disappeared in Argentina in 1978 by the military dictatorship.

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