By Humberto Constantini. Translated from the Spanish by Norman Thomas di Giovanni. New York:

Harper and Row, Publishers, 1985. ISBN: 0-06-015391-1.

According to the book is out of print in March 2000.

Bob Corbett
March 2000

Set in Argentina in 1977, Francisco Sanctis comes mysteriously into possession of information that may save the lives of two dissidents whom he doesn't even know. However, saving them may present some serious personal risks.

The action, virtually all of which takes place in the dark, is one evening and night in November. The dark and gloomy setting in the run-down streets of a working class area heighten the suspense and even terror of this thriller of a moral tale.

What will Francisco do, what will he decide? What should he decide? It was a page turning 178 pages that leaves me disturbed and unsure. Now it is I who have to make sense of Constantini, though the stakes aren't quite so high as for Francisco.

I felt a special kinship to this novel for several reasons. The most recent is my own concern with moral luck and accident. What are we to make of moral obligations that seem to impress themselves on us just by the accident of happening to be in a certain place at a certain time? This problem of moral philosophy has grabbed my attention of late and I have been reading essays and positions and thinking them through. Now I see the puzzle through the eyes of Francisco Sanctis who dwells in phenomenal depth on the issues as it impacts himself.

Francisco Sanctis didn't know these people and it was a wild chance association of 17 years earlier which led him to the moral luck (whether good or bad is also at question) of being able to intervene.

Secondly, l seemed to share some background with Sanctis which might make the problem for me look very much like it looked to him. Both of us had been students in the seminary, then let "in a crisis of faith." Both of us had become involved and interested in radical political causes, though my interest seems to have been much deeper and lasted for many more years than his two. And finally, both of us found ourselves later in life (a good deal later for me than him) at a point of having withdrawn more from public concerns and turned more to personal life when the issue arose.

Despite the areas of difference, there were such uncanny overlaps because of the similarities that I think I would have gone through some of the same agony as Francisco Sanctis. I just don't know where I would have come out.

Constantini's novel is gripping and well worth the read, but in the end a bit unsatisfying. After nearly 170 pages of soul-searching without being able to come to a conclusion as to what to do, Sanctis' final decision and action come so quickly and without clear foundation that I was left a bit stunned by the suddenness and surprise of it all. I'll wonder for a long time just how I would have wanted the book to end or how I might have written those last half-dozen pages.

For any who know Jean-Paul Sartre's short story "The Wall," there are some striking similarities between the two works.

Bob Corbett

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Bob Corbett