So as much as I dislike short stories. I really felt like this looong (415 page) book should have been a short story. I found the topic interesting (coping mechanisms of family during a political coup and resulting "disappearances"); I also respected Englander's attempt at literary appeal with all of his circular passages and his questions on the plausibility of two opposing truths. And yeah, I get the Kafka references/oblique credits. However, he really, really could have done all of that in oh, say 100 pages. Instead, he just did it 4 times (in case we didn't notice it?) but with the same characters. I mean really, aren't there more people in Buenos Aires than Gustov, Frida, Mustovksy, and The General and his wife?
It reminded me a bit of Chabon's The Yiddish Policeman's Union (which I also didn't like very much). I think these focused Jewish adventure/mystery stories are just not for me (they are much less mysterious and adventurous than one might hope and really just contain lots of circular whinging). There was also a bit of David Lynch in it with the whole dream/reality and people taking the place of others. We had two separate girls who "became" Pato (the rich daughter that Lillian returns to her parents and the one in the cell that finds Pato's notes).
On a positive note, the book is full of contradictions and nonsensical realities, which were cute and appropriate:
"After fity-two years in that city, kaddish's blindness was as sharp as his sight. He learned not to see any trouble that didn't see him first." and
"Which man is better off? The one without a future or the one without a past?" and
"He cursed his son with all the love that he had." and
"A man who never needs to turn on a light can see to great things."
Overall I found it hard to get through and not very compelling. Maybe that was part of Englander's point, but ultimately I just felt alienated and not very respected as a reader. Oh yeah, and bored.