After the success of last year’s novel for Almada, The Wind That Lays Waste, Dead Girls is an entirely unexpected piece of work in that it outlines reality in Argentina for many young women. A significant book that is indicative of the utter disregard for the lives of many, Dead Girls is an extraordinary read that will astound and shock all readers.
Femicide is defined as the murder of women simply because of their gender. In 2018, 139 women died in the UK as a result of male violence (The Guardian). In Argentina this number is far higher, with 278 cases actually registered for that same year. Selva Almada dives into the heart of this, focusing on three teenage girls murdered back in the 1980’s. With real live tales comparable to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, this calls some urgent attention on a horrific situation in South America.
Almada outlines the cases of those small-town girls, three unpunished deaths that occurred before the word ‘femicide’ was even coined. Raw yet important, this book brings to the fore these crimes committed within Argentina, while the country was celebrating the return of democracy. Three deaths without culprits: 19-year old Andrea Danne, stabbed in her own bed; 15-year old María Luisa Quevedo, raped, strangled, and dumped in wasteland; and 20-year old Sarita Mundín, whose disfigured body was found on a river bank. These examples of brutal tales of abused women weave together a very comprehensive profile of gender violence that has universal themes, and obviously translates well to readers from all over the world, as they bring their own cultural stance on these issues to each read.
This seems like an investigation similar to the recent James Erskine film about Billie Holiday, Billie. It is probing and attempting to unearth the truth, but is no police chronicle as such. This book is also not a thriller, it feels more like social commentary in a country at a time where these things could happen. With a wonderful translation from Annie McDermott and prose that drily attempts to capture the truth about these girls and the injustice they suffered, Dead Girls has much of a Fargo feel to it at times, but with more colourful elements of culture thrown in. Almada’s journalistic fiction is fierce, evocative and gives real insight into perceptions of women, abuse and femicide in Argentina in the ’80s. You might have to be of a certain disposition to pick up this title, albeit important you do.
Dead Girls is out now, published by Charco Press