The Little School Background

The Little School Background

The Little School is an autobiographical novel by Alicia Portnoy. Portnoy, perceived to be a political dissident, was "disappeared" during the Dirty War period in Argentina, principally from 1976 to 1979. Although it was commonplace throughout Argentine history for the country to be ruled by military dictatorships, the military junta of Videlo, Massera and Agosti was more brutal than any that had preceded it and any disagreement with a policy or a decision made by them was punishable by torture and often by death. During their regime, over thirty thousand people were "disappeared". The author, Alicia Portnoy, was one of these people.

The regime in power during the time of the novel had seized power after deposing Isabel Peron. Whilst in college, Alicia Portnoy had become involved in politics, principally as a Peronist and a socialist. The Videlo, Massera and Agosti union were fundamentally opposed to socialism and had seized power in order to prevent the rise of socialism throughout the country The Peronists had a radical guerrilla wing who were violent, most of their violence being directed at the military. This led to a campaign of repression which saw Portnoy and her husband captured and taken away from their little girl, Ruth. A description of this kidnapping opens the book, and although she was ultimately released from The Little School relatively quickly, after three months, most of her fellow prisoners were not as fortunate. The only trace of them that remains is the description of them in Portnoy's own words.

Since prisoners were blindfolded and forbidden to communicate it was difficult for Portnoy to gain a real sense of what was happening but she was able to see through a small gap in her blindfold, and also from what she heard, such as beatings, taunting and mocking by the guards, and the general degradation of the prisoners. She concentrated on the small things that enabled her to hold on to her humanity without her captors realizing it, and this refusal to be dehumanized is one of the central themes of the book.

After spending three months at The Little House, Portnoy was transferred to a state prison where she spent the next two years. Because she was never able to get to know any of her fellow prisoners, the novel is part auto-biography and part fiction, her own true story intertwined with more lyrical and fictionalized incidents. However, the descriptions of torture are true and are so vividly described as to make the reader feel that they are present whilst it is taking place. The book also included two appendices which contain all of the information that Portnoy was able to recall or subsequently learn about her fellow captives and their captors. She also made considerable efforts to contradict the government's efforts to deny these "disappearances", which was the main purpose of writing the book.

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