By: Martín Kohan
Translator: Daniel Hahn
Release Date: 2020
Publisher: Charco Press
Received From: Publisher
(All reviews are our own, honest opinions.)
Martín Kohan’s novel Confession is a look into Argentina’s past. More specifically, it is a look into the life of Mirta Lopez from the time she’s a young girl to her years as an elderly grandmother. These are broken into three main sections of the novel, each one centered on Mirta’s teenage, adult, and twilight years, respectively.
However, this isn’t a first-person family saga. Instead, we view Mirta’s life in third person, through the eyes of her granddaughter as she looks back on the past. This works quite well for the last two-thirds of the book. Mirta’s adulthood years are both experienced in real time, seen through the eyes of her grandchild as well as heard through stories told by Mirta herself. Learning about Mirta’s early life through the eyes of her granddaughter wasn’t nearly as convincing for me, though.
There are several themes in this book. There is Argentinian history within this book, specifically the revolution in the 1970s. Religion and how it affects both family dynamics and self-image are also very prominent within the work. And then we have a coming of age story, a part of a lifelong tale in which the young Mirta begins learning about crushes, romance, sexuality, and how these things can, cannot, and maybe should be able to be woven into her life as a young woman, as a Christian, and as Argentinian.
This section falls into an odd cadence. Most of the time it is easy to forget that Mirta’s grandchild is our storyteller. When the text reminds us of this fact, I couldn’t help but feel it was odd. As a narrative, having Mirta grapple with things like sexual desire and masturbation enhanced the text, things teens all over the world no matter their nationality or religion find themselves exploring. When put in the context of Mirta’s granddaughter relaying this to us, the reader, it comes across a bit oddly. After all, no one wants to think of their parents or grandparents in that sort of way.
The place where the book shines the brightest is toward the end. In this section, the main characters are playing a game of truco. This is a card game that is very popular in Argentina that involves all sorts of tricks and duping the other player. For those unfamiliar with the game, an overview is provided in the back of the book in an appendix, which some readers may want to read prior to reaching that chapter.
Confession is a book that needs a little digestion, perhaps even a second read. It is an interesting look at life in Argentina, a life with many converging and sometimes competing realities. It’s a book that settles in and remains in the back of the mind long after the last page in surprising ways.