reviewed by Anita Lock
"Just try to stop this government from committing suicide. Remember, if the Americans sit on the fence, we've had it."
The year is 1982 and Joe Friedberg and his dismantling crew board the Gaviota, an Argentine navel ship. Joe, an entrepreneur of sorts, has recently purchased the deeds to a defunct Edinburgh company. His first scrap metal project—one that he's been planning for years—is to go to South Georgia Island. Southeast of the Falkland Islands, South Georgia was once a whaling hub, but now a ghost town of empty industrial buildings. Of course, since it is under British rule though a part of the Patagonian Shelf (adjoining Uruguay and Argentina), Joe is wise to seek governmental blessings for his commercial jaunt. Even though he's been warned of political tension, Joe has no idea of all the events that are about unfold, let alone the people involved.
James G. Skinner's novel takes readers into a tumultuous near-forty-year period of Argentine history. Originally published in 2007, Skinner's revision, which includes "the "Dirty War" conflict that eventually leads up to the Falklands War, is based on his "vast experience in Latin America including the National Service in the Argentina Army." Skinner opens his third person narrative with Joe Friedberg whose business intentions are purely mercenary. While his first chapter finds Joe under close surveillance as the Gaviota nears the island, Skinner begins to delve into past. Describing the Argentine Army's plan for Operation Goa—a reference to India's annexation of the once Portuguese-ruled state of Goa, Skinner continues to rewind before he slowly fast-forwards to 1982.
Skinner incorporates a hefty amount of historical information involving countries in Europe (besides Britain), the United States, as well as Cuba while ultimately zeroing in on Argentina. Yet Skinner's historical presentation is not overbearing as he aptly interweaves those details within a highly organized plot that has a well-developed cast. At first it may appear that Skinner's approach to view the past is unnecessary. But logically it makes all the sense in the world because Skinner addresses two ideas. The first is purely historical perspective; for those who are not well acquainted with Argentine history, the puzzle pieces begin to fit together very nicely. Secondly, the gradual build up of history buys Skinner time to meticulously develop his characters.
There is a plethora of characters that play key roles throughout Skinner's storyline. Among that list are Joe's boarding school chums whose political fervor from their school days intensifies when they take on positions as adults, which vary from a newspaper editor and military figures to the CIA. Although they lose contact of one another after graduation, they eventually reconnect years later only to find themselves regrettably involved in a horrendous world conflict.
Skinner keeps his narrative flowing by deftly expanding on each character through the use of background scenes that involve their personal lives. Amid a gruesome in-depth history, Skinner manages to include tender romantic and familial scenes. Skinner alternates between character scenes that are often juxtaposed in chronological sequence, which only increases with the inclusion of ticking clock scenarios as the narrative thickens. Filled with endless espionage and a slew of red herrings that will keep readers a bit clueless as to the plot's culprits, The Goa File is immensely riveting from beginning to end. Highly recommended for history lovers.
RECOMMENDED by the USR