Rita Arditti. Searching For Life. The Grandmothers Of The Plaza De Mayo And The Disappeared Children Of Argentina. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1999.Pp. 235 (incl. Bibliography and index) $US 45.00 cloth, $US 17.95 paper.

The plight of the newborn children of the disappeared, and the agony of their grandmothers in search of them, are the stories of this book. Reported in excerpts from interviews with grandmothers and occasionally with reclaimed children, the report is powerful and moving.

Arditti provides minimal discussion of the political events that led to the coup and military repression of 1976 in Argentina. She focuses on the search for children born in captivity to “disappeared” mothers. This is the story of many families torn apart by a bloody-minded regime determined to destroy all forms of dissent, even to the point of stealing the new-born babies of women identified as “subversives.” The women themselves were usually murdered shortly after giving birth. The children were then given to military or other families. Officials interviewed by Arditti or cited elsewhere often took the position that the adoption was for the sake of the children, so that they would be reared by “right-thinking” families. Some of the adoptive parents were innocent of complicity, and they have suffered a new tragedy when informed that the children they have reared were kidnapped. The events were first reported to the non-Argentine world in the film, “The Official Story,” and this book fills out all the details.

The courageous women who came together to search for their grandchildren are identified here, and their journey is described partly through their eyes, partly through description of the events of the period of state terrorism from 1976-83, partly through interviews with others and information reported in the press. How the grandmothers organized, the resistance they encountered, their realization that finding the children was only the first step in proving who their biological parents were, and their gradual discovery of new methods of detection in the external world of science are all captured in the first six chapters of this volume.

The final two chapters are concerned with the problem of human identity and the politics of memory. The author sensitively describes the problems of coping with now-grown children whose adoptive parents have provided them with a pro-military belief system, and the very different situations of children adopted in good faith by parents who did not know of the conditions of their birth-mothers.

This book is not a theoretical work, and though profoundly concerned with human rights, is not an investigation of human rights as such. It is an empirical study of the events that occurred in Argentina under the military junta in the 1970s. It is very well researched, intelligent in its approach to the subject, sensitive to the tragedy and its victims. As a focused study of the grandmothers (the Abuelas), it provides an important addition to the several books now published on the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Recommended for all courses dealing with human rights and with Latin American studies.

Patricia Marchak
University of British Columbia

September 1999
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