Dead Girls, by Selva Almada (translated by Annie McDermott), investigates the unresolved murders of young women in the author’s home country – Argentina. Focusing on three girls murdered in the early 1980s, it is shocking although, sadly, unsurprising.
“Being a woman meant being prey.”
The author interviewed family and friends of the deceased, adding in her own experiences of growing up in a provincial town at a time when even phones in homes were rare. With few broadcast TV channels, news was mostly local. The author found this suffocating. Nevertheless, she felt mostly safe. The society she lived in chose not to acknowledge known incidents of domestic violence. It was drummed into her that if she dressed in a certain way, spoke to strangers or stayed out late she could be raped – and it would be her fault for putting herself in that situation.
The writing style is fragmented, jumping between investigation and informed opinion on each case. Lists of other unresolved murders of women are included. Femicide is far from unusual.
“My friends and I were still alive, but we could have been Andrea, Maria Luisa or Sarita. We were just luckier.”
Almada’a personal history is interwoven with her research into the dead girls’ lives – a reimagining of their last days. She uncovers horrific tales of gangs of boys raping individual girls with impunity, and of older men paying for a young girl to have sex with. The accounts are searing and disturbing although never voyeuristic. Life is not portrayed as happy for anyone mentioned.
An interview with the brother of one of the murdered girls highlights the arrogance of men in the country. This does not lead to any sense of fulfilment – several suicides are mentioned. Certain family members chose not to meet with the author, preferring to put what happened behind them. Others agreed to a visit then appear to have rehearsed what they were willing to share.
There are elements of the narrative that I found odd – perhaps a cultural difference. The author regularly consults a psychic – as do other characters featured – and gives credence to what is said.
That aside, this is a clear-eyed and compelling account of a journalistic investigation into murders for which no one has been punished. That they are a drop in an ocean of similar cases makes for a chilling read.
Dead Girls is published by Charco Press.