#45 / Eduardo Sacheri, The Secret in Their Eyes

Eduardo Sacheri, The Secret in Their Eyes (La pregunta de sus ojos), translated from the Spanish by John Cullen (New York, Other Press, 2011 [2005])  5 stars

Opening line: Benjamin Miguel Chaparro stops short and decides he’s not going.

I’d been looking forward to reading The Secret in Their Eyes ever since seeing Juan José Campanella’s film adaptation, which won the 2010 Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Happily, the novel was as pleasurable to read as the movie was to view – a complex, multilayered narrative of genuine humanity and warmth.

Benjamin Miguel Chaparro is newly retired from his position as Deputy Clerk of an investigative court in Buenos Aires. Now a man of leisure, he decides to write a novel about a case that has haunted him since 1968 – the murder of a young wife, Liliana Colotto, in her own home one summer’s morning. Oscillating between the past and the present, and spanning twenty-five years of Argentine history, the narrative tells the story of the murder and its repercussions for those left behind: grieving husband Ricardo Morales, investigator Benjamin, and the murderer himself.

While undoubtedly crime fiction, The Secret in Their Eyes is also partly a historical novel, exploring the time before, during and after Argentina’s Guerra Sucia or Dirty War. This period (1976-1983) saw a state-sponsored campaign of violence against citizens deemed to be leftist and/or politically subversive, resulting in the ‘disappearance’ of between 13,000 and 30,000 ArgentiniansBoth narrative strands – the criminal and the historical – provide an in-depth consideration of the nature of justice, and the impact of a justice that is delayed or denied. But at the same time, the novel can also be viewed as a pair of love stories – that of a husband and wife (Ricardo Morales and Liliana), and of long-time co-workers (Benjamin and his boss, Irene Hornos) – as well as the moving chronicle of a friendship (Benjamin and his colleague Sandoval). Beautifully written, with complex and often endearing characters, the novel is a rich, satisfying read.  

Benjamin, Irene and Sandoval

As soon as I finished the novel, I watched the film again. What a fabulous adaptation this is, especially in its use of the visual to bring out key themes (close-ups of eyes and gazes, for example, and the symbolism of the colour red – look out in particular for Irene’s roses). The acting is superb, and the wittiness of the script really captures the dynamics of Benjamin, Irene and Sandoval’s relationships.

But it was also interesting to note some modifications to the plot: Irene is much more of a participant in the film than in the novel (which I liked), and there were a couple of other changes towards the end designed to provide some extra drama (which I wasn’t so keen on). However, the latter certainly aren’t deal-breakers. It’s rare that a novel and film adaptation complement each other so well, and I’d recommend both wholeheartedly.   

If you’re interested in further Argentinian crime set during this period, see Ernesto Mallo’s Needle in a Haystack.

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14 Responses to #45 / Eduardo Sacheri, The Secret in Their Eyes

  1. Blighty says:

    Both the book and the film sound excellent, I must make the time to read/ watch. I read Needle in a Haystack on your recommendation and really liked it. So shocking about all those people disappearing in Argentina, can’t imagine the pain of their loved ones who will never know what happened.

    • Mrs P. says:

      Yes, it’s a really shocking period of Argentinian history. I think the two novels go very well together, although there are differences in tone and emphasis. The Mallo focuses much more directly on the period – the extra-judicial crimes of the state are flagged up in the very first chapter – whereas the Sacheri incorporates these into a larger time-frame that shows you the before and after as well. Both equally effective in their way though, and cracking reads.

  2. Mrs. P – It’s really not fair, you know, to add to my TBR this way. ;-) – In all seriousness, it’s so good to hear that the novel is as good as the film. I’ve been interested in this one and your excellent review has put it on my list. Thanks.

    • Mrs P. says:

      I know, I know *hangs head in shame*. But what can I do? It was so good I just had to tell you!

      Look forward to hearing what you think of it, Margot.

  3. Sounds great Mrs P – I just must see the film now!

    • Mrs P. says:

      The thing I loved in particular was the characterisation of the three lead characters in the investigative court. Really nicely done. Hope you enjoy, cavershamragu.

  4. kathy d. says:

    This film is so good and it’s a classic, I have not read the book.
    Another must-see film, which contains situations that occurred during the military junta’s regime is The Official Story. Not only is it revelatory and educational, but it’s part thriller, as the mystery
    unfolds about the parentage of an adored child. It stars the superb Argentinian actor, Norma Aleandro. It is a movie to be rewatched every few years,

    • Mrs P. says:

      Thanks very much for this recommendation, Kathy D – I’ll definitely chase The Official Story up. It sounds like one that shouldn’t be missed.

  5. TracyK says:

    I am so glad you liked the book. Now I am in a hurry to get it and read it… well in the next few months anyway. Then I will re-watch the movie too.

    • Mrs P. says:

      I thought the two went really well together and I’m sure I will reread/rewatch in the future. I got lots of out the second viewing of the film especially. Hope you enjoy!

  6. I’m in the midst of locating this book as we speak. I’m especially attracted to it because of the historical aspects in addition to all the other superior qualities you’ve named. Must read it!
    Judith

    • Mrs P. says:

      Hope you like it, Judith. Like you, I very much like quality novels that have a historical dimension. I just read a very ‘pure’ thriller – all high energy and action – and found it quite an empty reading experience. I really missed having some proper historical or social commentary to provide much-needed narrative depth.

  7. kathy d. says:

    Please post a review if you see The Official Story. It is an incredible movie with quite a story and tells a lot about the junta and its aftermath.

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