Bay area writer Carolina De Robertis's back page acknowledgments conjure a rich soup of sources. Topping the list are her Uruguayan cousins, photographic archives from Montevideo City Hall, and The Tumpamaros by Maria Ester Gilio. With these materials at her fingertips, it's hard to imagine better qualifications for the storytelling of three generations of a mother-daughter lineage. It doesn't hurt that De Robertis is one of those writers with Latin American sensibilities, creating tableaus of magical realism in which the extraordinary can happen without too much fuss: Babies can survive the wilderness, a poetic man can transform into a hair-dressing woman, and a 15-year-old girl can plan the revolution in complete secrecy.
I sincerely hope the dissolution of Louise Erdrich's actual marriage was a remote blueprint for the fictional one depicted here: two major narcissists and their "final solution." What makes a break-up tale wrenching is when its tractor beam entraps the whole family, causing a huge cascade of suffering for the hapless bystanders—in this case, three kids: The eldest, Florian, is a physics and math genius; Riel, who constructs a memory chart as a remedy to disappearing into her parents' mental illness. It is Riel who responds to the urge to protect her family by secretly stockpiling supplies for a nuclear-scale disaster. Then there's Stoney, the baby of the family, who communicates with his considerable drawing talent. And finally, the "emotional savant" family dogs who valiantly saddle the role of protectors. Admittedly, not a happy read, but still a solid Erdrich novel reminding us to remember the innocents.