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No Place For Heroes: A Novel by Laura…
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No Place For Heroes: A Novel (2009)

by Laura Restrepo

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
It's taken me a very long time to finally sit down and review No Place for Heroes, which is appropriate because it took me a very long time to finish it once I started. It bothered me because this was a book I felt like I should like, a story with history and characters and dueling narratives and a certain amount of mystery and intrigue. But it just never comes together, and the result is a messy muddle of what-could-have-been.

The aforementioned "dueling narratives" both involve the female protagonist, a mother named Lorenza. In the present, she and her son Mateo are traveling to Argentina in search of Ramon, Mateo's father, whom we learn kidnapped Mateo long ago, only to return him to Lorenza and disappear forever. The circumstances of that mystery are deeply tied in with the narrative of Lorenza's involvement in the Argentinian "Dirty War" of the 1970s and 1980s, which Lorenza tells to Mateo as their search progresses.

So what's the problem? It's two-fold, really: character and narrative structure. First things first, Lorenza and Mateo occupy the vast majority of the space on the page, except when Lorenza dips into her narratives of the 1970s, but neither act like fully formed, realistic characters. Mateo is the more egregious problem, vacillating wildly between being a precocious and ambitious young man and a bratty kid with the maturity level of a toddler. We never get a very strong understanding of why Mateo can't seem to settle on whether or not he will call the number he has found for Ramon, or why he decides in certain instances to go out and search or to stay in his hotel room and play video games.

This wouldn't be such a glaring problem if Lorenza herself were a more stationary character, but sadly she too wavers wildly between a stern, by-the-books disciplinarian and the more loosey-goosey woman who's prone to losing herself in the wistful nostalgia of her younger days during the Dirty War. She essentially enables all of Mateo's immature behavior and, while that may be part of Restrepo's point, it detracts greatly from the reader being able to empathize with either, or at least to relate to the mother-son relationship they have.

As a result, the narrative loses a great deal of its steam. All of the Dirty War narrative, for instance, takes place in Lorenza's storytelling, a necessary but unfortunate device. For one thing, any suspense that develops in any of the specific situations is tempered entirely by the fact that we know our protagonist gets out okay. This wouldn't be so bad if we felt connected in some way to her, but since she feels too nostalgic about this period of time for even Mateo to consistently care, it's difficult for the reader to care either.

By the time the novel enters its third act—in which we finally learn the circumstances of Mateo's kidnapping and return, and we ultimately experience the most explicit depiction of Lorenza's and Ramon's shady relationship—not much has happened in either narrative. Interestingly, Restrepo does do an admirable job of building some suspense into this final section but, in a most unfortunate move, she rushes the ending, condensing into a few short pages what we've waited an entire novel to learn. It feels cheap and the reader feels cheated.

With so little else to redeem it, the novel ends up feeling less profound than a profound waste of time. It may seem a bit harsh to say it so bluntly, but Restrepo simply did not do enough with the premise she had. Without a solid central relationship or a more objective, developed secondary plot, the novel plods along until its way-too-neat, way-too-quick conclusion. There are plenty of places in No Place for Heroes to create something engaging and compelling, but those places, like the novel itself, are ultimately empty.
  dczapka | Mar 20, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Mateo and his mother Lorenza have returned to Buenos Aires to seek his father Ramon. Lorenza and Ramon had been underground revolutionaries during Argentina's "Dirty War." They parted when Mateo was two, primarily because Lorenza chose not to live the precarious life of a revolutionary once she became responsible for a child.

There are two stories being told here: the story of the search for Ramon in the present time, and the story of Lorenza and Ramon in the past. Unfortunately, the story of Lorenza and Ramon is told in the form of a dialogue between Lorenza and Mateo. In Restrepo's hands, this is a clumsy narrative device that serves only to distance the reader from the actuality of the story. (Mateo's frequent interjections do not help this problem.) There is never the sense that hey--this is actually happening to these people. I was always aware that we were in a hotel room, or cafe, or whereever, listening to a mother talk to her son. The story of the Dirty War never became real.

I also never got the sense that the activities of Ramon, Lorenza and their group served any purpose. It felt as if they were merely playing games. The immediacy and horrors of what actually happened during the Dirty War never seemed to infuse their actions. When Lorenza tells Mateo (in the present time) that she had come across some of her former compatriots, who had been known to her in the past only by pseudonyms, but who now revealed their true names and occupations, Mateo says it's as if, "Batman and Spiderman got together... and took off their masks and revealed their secret identities to each other."

Mateo is supposed to be a teenager at the time of the search for his father, but he is written in a way that he never feels like a teenager. He comes across as either two years old or as a wise old man. The relationship with his mother also does not ring true.

This is the second book by Restrepo that I have read. I can recommend her earlier novel, Isle of Passion, but not this book ( )
  arubabookwoman | Dec 29, 2010 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This novel offers insight into a war which until now was unknown to me, the “Dirty War” fought in Argentina by militants opposing the dictatorship ruling the country in the 1970’s and ‘80’s.
The story begins in Buenos Aires as Lorenza, a former militant and her son Mateo arrive to search for Mateo’s estranged father, Ramon. The young man has many questions regarding his father who left them when he was two years old. Now, as he approaches manhood he seeks answers as to who his father was, what he wore, what he looked like, no detail is too small. His questions are slowly resolved through Lorenza’s memories of meeting and subsequently falling in love with Ramon and the life they led as militants. As the stories unfold Mateo attempts to repeatedly contact his father but never having the courage he and his mother instead spend their time together playing video games, concerts, touring Buenos Aires and sharing little snippets of memories they each recall. In this way the story takes some understately humorous turns and Lorenza’s memories of the underground are indeed enlightening. However, the juxtaposition of present and past lacks cohesiveness and continuity and at times becomes confusing.

The relationship between mother and son appears close and loving yet complicated. I could easily imagine and prefer this book done as a play for the tone and timeliness of banter between Lorenza and Mateo is fit for the stage with vignettes that bring in Ramon, his brother Miche and their militant friends to break up the monotony while offering interesting insights.

Midway through the story Mateo makes the comment, “I’m really liking this movie” and I find that I am beginning to finally like the book, but alas, it is short lived and by the lackluster, up in the air ending, I’ve lost all hope for Heroes. ( )
1 vote Carmenere | Oct 6, 2010 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is a story about two Colombians, a mother and a son, who are visiting Buenos Aires. The mother is an ex-Trostkyite who lived in Buenos Aires for several years during the Dirty War, where she fell in love with and married the man who became the boy's father. After the son's birth, the fear of being hauled away proves too great and the family flees back to Colombia. There the marriage fell apart, and the couple separated. The boy grew up without the father, and so they have come back to Argentina to find him.

It's a potentially rich concept, and the execution provides some very interesting themes and moments, but it has its flaws. On the positive side, it's an interesting look at the way narrative is part of how we make sense of our lives. The mother spends a good part of the time telling the boy the story of how he and his father met, fell in love, then came apart. This provides opportunity for a degree of back and forth between them on how the story is told, what facts are important, how is the narrative being dressed up, etc.

However, the novel sometimes feels a little false. The son, in particular, spoke in a way that didn't seem very plausible for an 18-year-old. Also, Restrepo sometimes attempts to underline her themes in ways that felt heavy-handed. One of the back cover blurbs compares the novel to Kiss of the Spider Woman or Waiting for Godot, but it lacks either of those works' confidence in letting the dialogue speak for itself without having to lay everything out for us. ( )
  CarlosMcRey | Oct 1, 2010 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
“No Place for Heroes” is the story of two individuals, a mother and her grown son, searching for their place in the world. Laura Restrepo creates a rich story out of the give and take of two people that can’t understand where each other is coming from. The blurb on the back likens this novel to “Waiting for Godot,” but it is much less surreal and much more satisfying. In addition examining the ties between people, “No Place for Heroes” also explores the effects of political oppression on individuals and relationships. ( )
  rmjp518 | Sep 28, 2010 |
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"Necesito saber como fue" -- le dice Mateo a su madre. "El episodio oscuro, quiero saber como fue exactamente."
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Lorenza and her son, Mateo, return to Buenos Aires as they try to find Ramon, Mateo's father, who was a political radical with Lorenza in Argentina's "Dirty War," as Lorenza deals with her memories of the past and Mateo, who is not interested in politics, only want to find his father.… (more)

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