To Kill Without a Trace
Mantua Books, 2014, 350 pp.
On the chilly morning of July 18, 1994, at a busy intersection in Buenos Aires, a white Renault van sped in front of Mrs. Nicolasa Romero, who was walking her son, Nahu, to nursery school. "A real lout," thought Nicolasa, "no respect for pedestrians." He would have run us over, she fumed, had I not yanked Nahu back onto the pavement. "Idiot!" she yelled. The driver, she later recalled, "was dark-skinned, with large eyes; he wore a beige shirt and his dark hair was cut army-style." He looked impassively into Nicolasa's eyes as she held tightly to Nahu's hand.
Minutes later, a tremendous explosion, a deafening roar, shattered the morning. The screams and the storms of stones, rubble, and broken glass meant that it came from somewhere nearby, and Nicolasa and her son, together with many others, crouched on the ground in fear. People were yelling, "A bomb! A bomb!" When, dazed and covered in dust and shards of glass, Nicolasa managed to pull herself and Nahu up, she immediately saw that they were the lucky ones. Others lay on the bloodied ground mutilated, some dead.
Indeed, the explosion left 85 dead and hundreds seriously injured. This, the deadliest explosion in Argentina's history, completely destroyed the 3-level building known as the AMIA [Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina], the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association, a community center that provided assistance to the needy and the elderly, as well as school programs, soup kitchens, a library, and cultural activities.
In To Kill Without a Trace, Gustavo Perednik, an Argentinian Israeli, tells the story of that horrific explosion, soon exposed as a suicide bombing. A thinly veiled autobiography, the novel employs the device of a narrator and his student, as well as other narrative devices that serve mainly to confuse the reader. (The book, translated from the Spanish, badly needs an index.) Nevertheless, Perednik clearly demonstrates the bungling, corrupt efforts and counter-efforts of the Argentine authorities to find and punish the culprits. It is tragedy-cum-farce, a Keystone Kops circus full of unpronounceable names, acronyms, back-slapping, and tales of breathtaking turpitude.