At Riskby Maxine Case
(BLACK CAT, 2011)
Interesting and insightful, Kamchatka is also engrossing, often funny, and very, very unsettling. The word “Kamatchka” refers to the territory on the Risk game board which is furthest from Argentina, according to 10-year-old Harry, who lives with his parents and his younger brother, the Midget, in Buenos Aires. The year is 1976; there has been a military coup, and people are beginning to disappear.
Soon the family is forced to disappear, to go into hiding in the country and live under assumed names. Stranded in a bleak cottage with a swampy pool where toads come to die, Harry dreams of becoming an escape artist, like his chosen namesake, Houdini.
Away from his friends and his things, Harry must adapt to a house that degenerates into tension and chaos, echoing the circumstances during Argentina’s “Dirty War.” His only companion is the 18-year-old boy who joins the family in their hideaway.
Given the subject matter, Kamchatka could be morose or depressing. Rather, it is a testament to Figueras’s skill in capturing the joys of childhood. Harry’s world is also one of comic books and superheroes, familiar TV shows like The Saint, The Invaders, and Superman, and the mundane thrills and goals that make up a young boy’s life, such as winning at Risk.
Harry’s mother often reminds him that “life might be beautiful, but it’s not fair.” Yet Harry and this poignant novel remind the reader that while life might not be fair, “it has its moments.”