Memory Tracks: Fragments from Prison (1975-1980)
by Margarita Drago

Editorial Campagna, 2007. ISBN 978-0-9725611-5-0.
Reviewed by Susan Andrus
Posted on 02/19/2008

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: History/Current Events

Margarita Drago, a seventh-grade teacher in Argentina, became a political prisoner when she was arrested in 1975. Memory Tracks: Fragments from Prison (1975-1980) recounts her recollections of that time of horror. She offers a moving chronicle of resistance to oppression in Argentina during the US-backed Perón administration.

Without detailing the specifics of abuse, rape, or torture, Drago nevertheless provides the reader with enough information to understand the horror of being a political prisoner. At the same time, however, she keeps the reader focused on the encouragement, compassion, hope, and love the prisoners show to each other. She describes the way they hoard their bread crusts and sugar to make special desserts for each other, wake up early to prepare maté and toast for breakfast, and encourage each other by reciting poetry, recounting movies, and telling stories. They also write an underground newspaper on tiny scraps of paper, enclosing them in plastic and hiding the documents in vagina or rectum to carry them to their visiting relatives to be published.

Drago relates her first-hand experience of the invincibility of the human spirit in the most degrading situations. Her memoir reminds us of the survivors of the Holocaust and gives us a hint of the conditions currently experienced by prisoners of the Iraq war. Her memories personify the qualities of hope in spite of virtually insurmountable obstacles, courage and strength in unity, and victory over repression, terrorism, and abuse.

This deeply moving account shows how the privileged, controlling factions may assert their strength in an attempt to repress those who disagree with their views, but they fail to subdue their prisoners' spirits or take away their freedom. All the oppressors do is make themselves look more ridiculous and impotent. The more the oppressors try to control, the more the oppressed gain freedom.

Throughout the book, Drago inserts quotations drawn from diverse sources, such as her husband, José de la Rosa, and Walt Whitman. One can guess that these words inspired and encouraged Drago and her fellow political prisoners throughout their ordeal and beyond.

Although she still carries the scars of her incarceration, Drago has risen above the abuse, deprivation, and insanity of prison, unfurling the banner of liberation for herself and her fellow political prisoners. She writes:

Sunlight delights me. This sun was my witness, my accomplice, and my companion during the time of my confinement...It invited me to dream. I would close my eyes, throwing my head back, and surrendering to my imagination's conceits and flights of fancy...How would it feel to live again in a house, entering and leaving without schedule, opening and closing doors and windows, turning on lights, half-drawing curtains closed, and listening to Vivaldi, Bach, The Beatles or Vox Dei?...Always the same questions hovered in my mind: what would it be like to recuperate so many freedoms? Today as sunlight invites me to reflect on what I learned when I hit bottom, I do not want to forget that during war I was able to nurture my freedom and defend it.

Margaret A. Ballentine beautifully translated Drago's memoir and accomplished her own goal: "to reproduce in English the crystalline quality of the Spanish prose, to evoke the emotional and physical spaces of this story and to transmit the spirit of the people whose stories this book brings us."

Originally from Argentina, Margarita Drago has lived in the United States since 1980. As an ex-political prisoner, she has represented Argentina in congresses in the United States, Mexico, Peru and France. She has published articles in newspapers and literary, educational, and human rights magazines. Drago has worked in education since 1986, and is now a professor of Spanish language and literature and of bilingual education of York College of the City University of New York, where she has worked since 1995. She is currently vice-president of the Latino Artists Round Table (LART), a nonprofit cultural organization that was founded in 1999.

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