“Once@9:53am: Terror in Buenos Aires” by Ilan Stavans— Terror in Argentina

Stavans, Ilan. “Once@9:53am: Terror in Buenos Aires”, Penn State University Press, 2016.

Terror in Argentina

Amos Lassen

March 17, 1992 was the date of the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires that destroyed not only the embassy, but also a Catholic church and a nearby school. Twenty-five people were killed of which the vast majority were Argentine civilians—only four of the victims were Israelis and 242 people were injured. It was the deadliest terrorist attack in Argentina’s history until two years later a similar attack on the AMIA, the Jewish Federation building, killed 85 and injured over 300 people.

The latter attack occurred in the neighborhood of Once at 9:53 AM (the title of this novella in photos or fotonovela, written by Ilan Stavans with photographs by Marcelo Brodsky). The Spanish term “fotonovela” describes a comic book with photographs instead of illustrations. In English, the it has a bit of a different meaning as you will see when you read this.

It is surprising that the Mexican-born academic Stavans and Argentine photographer and artist Brodsky use this format to tackle such a traumatic historical event such as the terrorist attack on the AMIA building but it works and works well. “Once@9:53am” is a fictionalized account of the hours prior to the bombing. It is an intimate homage to the Buenos Aires’ historic immigrant neighborhood which is something like New York’s Lower East Side, and its communities. The story we get here is a countdown to the moment when the catastrophe changed the face of the area forever.

The original Spanish edition of the book was published in Argentina in 2011. Penn State University Press now brings us this fascinating book. The expanded edition contains a new essay by Stavans that looks at not only Argentina’s complicated history of attempts at coming to terms with the terrorist attacks, but also puts the narrative in the wider context of Latin American Jewish identity. This essay alone makes it an excellent and important read. This is a must-read for those interested in the Jewish culture of Latin America and an excellent for those who just want to read a fascinating book.

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