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Circles of Madness: Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo/Circulos de locura: Madres de la Plaza de Mayo.

It is impossible to dwell dry-eyed on the poems and photographs of this remarkable book. Chilean author Marjorie Agosin pierces our consciousness with the anguish of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, women who lost their children during the violence that seized Argentina from 1976 to 1983. Her images tumble from the page in profusion, bombarding us, enraging us, and, finally, consoling us, for from the Mothers' struggle against oppression springs a new sense of solidarity and hope. The translations by Celeste Kostopulos-Cooperman render exquisitely the richness of Agosin's verse. The photographs that accompany these poems are immensely powerful. D'Amico and Sanguinetti capture not only the pain of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, but also their courage and determination. These are women who will not be intimidated, who demand an accounting.

On March 24, 1976 General Jorge Rafael Videla seized power in Argentina. The military junta dissolved the legislature and imposed martial law, initiating a reign of terror that was to last for years. In 1977 the Argentine Commission for Human Rights attributed to the government some 2300 murders, 10,000 arrests and from 20,000 to 30,000 disappearances. The violence subsided under the leadership of General Leopoldo Galtieri, who came to power in 1981. In 1983 democracy was restored when Raul Alfonsin attained the presidency in the first free election in a decade. The words and images of Circles of Madness are a tribute to the "disappeared" - the men and women, mostly young, who were detained, tortured and murdered in secret - and, especially, to the mothers and grandmothers who marched day after day in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, demanding that their loved-ones be returned or accounted for.

The military regime tried to discredit the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo by calling them madwomen. In his Afterword, written just after Galtieri's rise to power, Julio Cortazar credits the Mothers with Videla's downfall and reminds us that some of the greatest visionaries in the history of the world have been called mad. " . . . Let's continue our folly:" he writes, "there is no other way to put an end to that reason that vociferates its slogans of order, discipline, and patriotism."

Circles of Madness bears witness to the suffering, courage and camaraderie of these women, who were instrumental in inducing national and international pressure against the military regime and finally bringing it down. But more than on the political impact of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Circles of Madness focuses on the human reality. The Mothers are not an amorphous mass, but actual, individual women who have suffered a devastating loss. In her poignant description of a mother sitting alone by an empty closet, Agosin communicates superbly the void left by the absent children who are always present to their families: "The closets have remained empty forever,/and she converses at the edge of a bed/that glides, floats, and is a ritual of darkness/where the absent body leaves an impression that corrodes. . . "

Equally moving is the photograph of a woman sitting alone at a long, white marble table. The room is stark and somber and, from the angle the picture is taken, the table appears immense. It is set only for one. At the far end sits the solitary woman, her grief palpable, her plate empty, her glass filled only with water. Behind her, barely visible, are pictures of her missing child.

The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo wear white kerchiefs. Agosin compares them in her introduction to "hallucinatory doves that shine in the middle of a nebula." Indeed, light not darkness dominates both poems and photographs. Marching together in their white kerchiefs, placards with pictures of their missing children raised like weapons, these women bring to mind a conquering army. But the dove is a symbol of peace and hope. In several photos the Mothers console and embrace each other, inspiring in each other the strength to go on. In the end, these women are an affirmation of the future. They symbolize rebirth and rebuilding.

But hope for the future does not mean forgetting the past. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo can never forget. One heart-rending prose poem ends: " ...and she dreams about returning quickly to the river because maybe she will see his brown sun-bleached locks of hair, and if he is not in the river, maybe, yes, surely he will be in the sea. If he isn't in the sea, surely he will be in heaven."

The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo can never forget, nor should we. Marjorie Agosin and her collaborators have undertaken to see that we don't.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Mujica, Barbara; Holston, Mark
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1992
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