- No One Said a Word by Paula Varsavsky
Although set in Argentina’s late 1970’s, Paula Varsavsky’s No One Said a Word does not explore the political situation of the time. The novel focuses on the dynamics of family relationships. No One Said a Word, translated by Anne McLean, tells us the story of Luz Goldman, a young girl dealing with the aftermath of her parent’s divorce, her dad’s remarriage, and an unsupervised adolescence that leads to drug use and early sexual experiences.
Varsavsky begins her novel when Luz learns that her father has died. In the first chapter we discover Luz’s love and respect for her father and the impossibility of bringing back the past. The author then spends the rest of the novel recounting Luz’s story in first person narrative about her divided life, living half the time with her mother and half with her father, and later living in two countries, the United States and Argentina. Given such a setting, it is interesting to read that the author did not choose to write about the life of the immigrant or living in two cultures. Instead, she tells us of Luz’s coming of age struggles and points to the lack of care—or perhaps the difficulty of experiencing genuine parental involvement—when parents are divorced, live self-absorbed lives, and live far away. An interesting theme throughout the entire novel is the characters’ lack of awareness or interest in the country’s war and military dictatorship happening right before their eyes and partially responsible for Luz’s father’s move to New York. This theme is another way in which the novel differs from many written with a similar setting.
Luz’s story is marked by loneliness, alienation and loss. Although she seems never to lack the company of her friends and sometimes her brother, she is alone. She describes herself as an excellent student, able to handle school almost effortlessly. She makes decisions about her schools on her own, as long as her parents are willing to pay for her tuition. She engages in drug use, and develops a relationship with a bisexual drug addicted boy named Raúl. Varsavsky’s novel allows readers to see the dangers of lack of parental engagement, though not always as result of divorce, given the fact that Luz’s friend Mara and Raúl have married parents but live lives that are only limited but the amount of money their parents are willing to give them. For example, Raúl’s parents never come to his room, “they asked what we were doing. They didn’t hear the records we played either…We’d lie on Raúl’s bed smoking pot” (67). Even when his parents wanted to get in touch with him, “they phoned him, even though their room was next to his” (119).
Luz engages in an abusive co-dependent relationship with Raúl to cover up her loneliness and need for love. Even in this relationship, she acknowledges that [End Page 173] all she wanted was someone to care for her, to make her feel safe. She constantly confronts and insults him about his affairs with men and his drug addiction. Raúl only seems to want sex and drug use companions. While they hurt each other with words and silences, they continue to be together because there isn’t anyone better. It is clear in the novel that Luz’s need for her father’s love and attention pushes her to engage in behavior that leaves her empty. Perhaps what explains the title phrase best is the fact that the novel is filled with silences and cover ups. No one dares to confront and speak out about the difficult life these adolescents are living. At her dad’s funeral Luz says, “No one said a word, it was scary” (13), while it explains the solemnity and mood of the occasion—in a snowy cemetery, with people dressed in mourning—it also serves as an explanation of some much hurt in Luz’s...