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Claudia Ermey
The Confessional

Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Market)

Mirta and Roberto DeSalvo, refugees from the Dirty War of Argentina (1976-83), owe their lives to wealthy American, Julia Parks. Soon after the DeSalvos are settle in the employ of Julia in Northern California, Julia discovers her brief affair with a young priest on the lonely Oregon coast has led to an unexpected late-in-life pregnancy. Free-spirited Julia has no intention of adding a man or a baby to her full and glamorous life. When she asks the DeSalvos to adopt her newborn, Francesca, they have no honorable choice but to accept, even though it means they cannot return to Argentina to search for their missing granddaughter, Cristina. Although raised in a loving home, Francesca can't help but yearn for her birth mother whom she fantasizes to have been an impoverished girl forced to give up her baby. When she sets out to find her, secrets begin to surface and lives will never be the same.
Ermey’s accomplished, culture-crossing debut novel highlights the devastating impact of the Dirty War of Argentina. After Alberto and Mirta DeSalvo’s daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter are abducted in Buenos Aires by soldiers because of their son-in-law Ernesto’s subversive activities, Mirta is also arrested and taken to a torture center, where her captors demand to know Ernesto’s whereabouts. Desperate to save his wife, Alberto tries to pay the ransom, but when he falls short on the $10,000 demand, he turns to his cousin for help—who eventually convinces her American employer, Julia Parks, to give them the money needed to free Mirta. From this, the DeSalvos and Julia are firmly connected, and their bond transforms in ways none of them could predict.

Ermey excels at integrating historical events into the story, with chilling depictions of the torture endured by Mirta, and she capably depicts the subservience of Argentinian women to their husbands during the 1970s. Her depiction of Argentina’s Dirty War and the corruption of government and church officials is revealing and devastating. Also engaging is her handling of the novel’s surprising connection: after Julia helps the DeSalvos escape Argentina to live in California, the couple agree to work for her as caretakers. Julia, who is pregnant, eventually asks them to adopt her unborn daughter, with the provision that they never disclose that she is the birth mother. Alberto and Mirta readily agree, naming the baby Francesca.

Yet it’s Ermey’s attention to the dynamics between her characters, especially between Mirta and Francesca, that will resonate most with readers, especially as Francesca becomes an adult, has an opportunity to connect with Julia, and begins to compare Mirta to Julia. Anyone who can relate to the intricacies of family bonds across generations and the love and sacrifices that children can discover their parents have made will appreciate this engaging, empathetic read.

Takeaway: A moving novel in which an Argentinian couple escapes tragic loss to start over in California.

Great for fans of: Daniel Loedel’s Hades, Argentina, Ellen Keith’s The Dutch Wife.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A