by Rivka Galchen
Starred Reviews: Publisher's Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, and Kirkus
2008, 240 pp.
It's rare that a book gets starred reviews from all four major review publications. Was this book that good; does it really deserve that much attention? Yes, absolutely. I really, really loved it; so much, in fact, that I held off reading the last 20 pages or so for two days because I didn't want it to be over.
Psychoanalyst Leo Liebenstein thinks his wife Rema has disappeared. Not only that, but he believes she has been replaced by a simulcrum, someone who looks and acts (almost) exactly like her. Meanwhile, Harvey, one of Leo's mental patients (who believes he has the ability to control the weather) is also missing. Not buying in to the simulcrum's Rema-like performance, Leo goes to the ends of the earth to Buenos Aires and Patagonia to try to uncover the truth of what has happened to his wife.
I'll be the first to admit that although I enjoyed this book tremendously, it won't be to everyone's tastes. It's very quirky, very eccentric, but also intelligent and extremely funny. Much of what I found humorous in the novel was due to the fact that I went to Argentina in April, so I was able to get many of the inside jokes about dog poop in the streets, maté tea, Alpha Wh*re Rays, and many other references to Argentinian life. The author had been in South America for a year working on public health issues, so her writing comes from first hand experience in the region. There were, of course, also references to the (not so funny) "Disappeared."
This is Rivka Galchen's first novel, and I definitely will be anxiously awaiting whatever she comes up with next. Oh, and if her literary career doesn't work out (I have no doubt that it will), she can always fall back on her MD that she received from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
An interview with Rivka Galchen