A Review of El misterio de las causalidades: Relatos
Are the coincidences in our lives just random or could they have hidden causes and deeper meanings?
Argentine author Maud Daverio Cox grapples with this enigma in her latest book, El misterio de las causalidades: Relatos, which I translate as The Mystery of Causalities: Tales although it sounds teasingly close to The Mystery of Coincidences (“casualidades” in Spanish).
In a rambling series of eight varied accounts, Cox tells of episodes in her life that have startling explanations – or in some cases, none.
She covers a lot of ground and a lot of time, from the 1588 arrival of a French ancestor in Cork, Ireland, to her very English grandfather who defended turbaned Sikh immigrants in Argentina in 1912 when they were harassed by the beef-worshiping population for their exotic customs that included strict vegetarianism.
Of personal interest to me was her account of Argentina’s 1970s Dirty War, a time my Argentine wife and I shared while raising our own young family in Buenos Aires. As regional editor for United Press International (UPI) from 1973 to 1978 I reported on attacks by both leftist guerrillas and military death squads. I didn’t hear of any U.S. journalists being targeted but I was relieved when the company transferred me to Bogota as part of economic downsizing. Cox recounts how she and her English husband, Robert Cox, the courageous editor of the English-language daily Buenos Aires Herald, befriended and supported women whose family members were”disappeared” by a military dictatorship that seized, tortured and murdered an estimated 30,000 citizens and resident foreigners between 1976 and 1983.
She tells of a particularly close relationship to Elena Arocena,a Brazilian immigrant whose son Marcos was grabbed by a government paramilitary squad and of the woman’s tireless, heartbreaking but fruitless search for her son, whose body was found and identified years after her own death in the 1980s.
One of the disturbing concidences in Cox’s life was the appearance of a young Argentine who identified himself as Marcos Arocena at her doorstep in Charleston, South Carolina, long after she and her husband had fled to the United States when the regime’s death threats reached their own five children. This, unfortunately, was not the same Marcos and the coincidence remained unexplained at the time, but Maud eventually learned they were from the same family but didn’t know each other.
In Buenos Aires, I knew Bob Cox as a respected and admired colleague but never met Maud or their children. I remember the climate of terror under the military junta when Bob was clumsily arrested and dropped out of sight for a day, leading to widespread fear for his fate. Bob later credited pressure from international media and representatives of U.S. President Jimmy Carter as instrumental in obtaining his release unharmed.
Maud Cox mixes such serious memories with other episodes, including coming into possession of a set of fine Limoges dishware decorated with one of her relative’s initials (the book includes a striking color photo of one of the plates), which a chance encounter revealed to be the result of a family scandal long ago and far away.
There is even a light moment in her matter-of-fact account of her family’s flight abroad, when they stop for tea and scones at a pub in the English village of Banbury Cross—a place she thought existed only in the rhyme game of her childhood—“I ride a cockhorse to Banbury Cross, to see a fine lady upon a white horse. . .”
The book is a sometimes puzzling mixture of compelling personal autobiography and Argentine history. The incidents don’t really hang together in any clear way — but that seems to be Maud Daverio Cox’s point in relating them from her memory: the mystery of coincidences and causalities of life.
Spring/Summer 2021, Volume XX, Number 3
Martin McReynolds is a retired journalist living in Buenos Aires who worked for United Press International (UPI) and The Miami Herald. He and his Argentine wife, Irma Norma Perez, have three children born in Argentina but now living in the United States.
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