On a Night of a Thousand Stars Summary and Reviews

On a Night of a Thousand Stars

by Andrea Yaryura Clark

On a Night of a Thousand Stars by Andrea Yaryura Clark X
On a Night of a Thousand Stars by Andrea Yaryura Clark
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Book Summary

In this moving, emotional narrative of love and resilience, a young couple confronts the start of Argentina's Dirty War in the 1970s, and a daughter searches for truth twenty years later.

New York, 1998. Santiago Larrea, a wealthy Argentine diplomat, is holding court alongside his wife, Lila, and their daughter, Paloma, a college student and budding jewelry designer, at their annual summer polo match and soiree. All seems perfect in the Larreas' world—until an unexpected party guest from Santiago's university days shakes his usually unflappable demeanor. The woman's cryptic comments spark Paloma's curiosity about her father's past, of which she knows little.
When the family travels to Buenos Aires for Santiago's UN ambassadorial appointment, Paloma is determined to learn more about his life in the years leading up to the military dictatorship of 1976. With the help of a local university student, Franco Bonetti, an activist member of H.I.J.O.S.—a group whose members are the children of the desaparecidos, or the "disappeared," men and women who were forcibly disappeared by the state during Argentina's "Dirty War"—Paloma unleashes a chain of events that not only leads her to question her family and her identity, but also puts her life in danger.

In compelling fashion, On a Night of a Thousand Stars speaks to relationships, morality, and identity during a brutal period in Argentinian history, and the understanding—and redemption—people crave in the face of tragedy.

Justice From a Windowless Basement in Buenos Aires
(and How I Came to Write This Novel)

In 1995, a former commander of Argentina's Air Force publicly confessed to drugging political prisoners and throwing them out of airplanes during the country's 1976-83 military dictatorship. Thousands of people, known as the "desaparecidos," were kidnapped, tortured and killed during this period, but the military and security forces went largely unpunished. I had moved back to Buenos Aires and was working as a television producer when the commander's confession hit the newsstands.  

Much had been written about the students, working class people, political activists, professionals and intellectuals who were forcibly disappeared. Little was known, however, about the sons and daughters left behind. Familiares, a Human Rights organization, had recently granted a space to a group of young people to meet on Thursdays. They called themselves H.I.J.O.S., an acronym for "Sons and Daughters for Identity and Justice Against Forgetting and Silence."

When I was a child in 1970s Buenos Aires, my father, a psychiatrist, was secretly approached by government authorities to examine political prisoners. He turned down the offer. He was also a writer, and his editor was disappeared, potentially putting my father at risk. Moreover, psychiatrists and psychotherapists would be targeted during the dictatorship. Fortunately, we were able to freely leave the country before the coup d'état. So, I wasn't quite sure what drove me to attend an H.I.J.O.S. meeting. But, when I entered the windowless basement of the Familiares building one Thursday night with a vague explanation, I was invited to stay.

Everyone went around the room introducing themselves. Some spoke confidently. "My name is Nicolas, I'm 19 and my mother is a desaparecida." Others spoke in voices conveying pain. "I'm Malena. My parents were held captive in E.S.M.A." E.S.M.A., formerly known as the Higher School of the Mechanics of the Navy, housed the most notorious clandestine torture center. When it was my turn, I said I wanted to learn more about what had happened to the people of my generation affected by the so-called Dirty War.

As the meeting came to end, my reason for being there became clear. I would accompany these sons and daughters, learn their stories and, if possible, record them. Those I approached were eager to talk. Most had grown up without ever sharing their experiences. Some had lived with false identities and been forced to conceal the fates of their parents from friends and teachers. Others would tell me that, for years, their grandparents lied to them about their parents' whereabouts, hoping to shield them from the horror. All but one person wanted their real names to be used. As one hijo told me, "It would be awful to think that we still have to hide from who we are and where we come from."

In the time I spent with the group, I joined them in protests and travelled to the first national meeting of H.I.J.O.S. in Cordoba province. It was around this time, I decided I would record video footage and make a documentary.

As the group gained prominence, the Argentine secret service started making itself visible to the group. Some members began receiving anonymous, threatening phone calls. A founding member of H.I.J.O.S. had her apartment broken into. One day, after my camera crew filmed an escrache – a form of protest that consists of publicly confronting, exposing and condemning a past perpetrator of human rights violations who has gone unpunished— a green Ford Falcon, the ubiquitous car of the 1970s death squads, slowly followed my producer and me as we walked, parking across the street from my apartment building.

I hadn't planned on leaving my beloved childhood city ever again until I met my future husband and we moved to New York in the early 2000s. My documentary remained unfinished, but the stories stayed with me. They will never leave me.  

One morning, I woke up to the remnants of a dream about a young woman, the daughter of Argentines, who grows up in New York and, on a visit to Buenos Aires, uncovers a family secret. That dream would eventually become my debut novel On a Night of a Thousand Stars.

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. The novel alternates between the perspectives of Paloma in 1998 and Valentina in 1973. What parallels did you draw between both characters' lives in terms of passion and personality? Did you prefer one timeline to the other?
  2. In the first half of the novel, we see the gradual erosion of civil liberties in Argentina, such as the elimination of the free press, the acceleration of arrests, and the state's sponsorship of the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance. How did these changes lay the foundation for the atrocities that were later committed by the dictatorship? Were you familiar with Argentina's "Dirty War" before reading On a Night of a Thousand Stars? How did reading about these events affect you?
  3. HIJOS, The Sons and Daughters for Identity ...
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Media Reviews

"A skillful debut which serves as a reminder that a country's past can never be left in the past." - Kirkus Reviews

"Yaryura Clark's stirring if uneven debut sheds light on the atrocities committed by the Argentine Anticommunist Alliance during the Dirty War, from 1974–1983...Magnetic and revelatory, this one is imperfect if hard to put down." - Publishers Weekly

"A compelling story of a time and place that might not be well known to American readers, as well as a heartbreaking narrative of generational trauma." - Booklist

"[A] vividly-rendered debut...Both heartbreaking and race-to-the-end suspenseful, as secrets will out that starkly reveal the tragedy of Argentina's Dirty War." - Library Journal

"With suspense and heartbreak, Andrea Yaryura Clark's debut novel explores the human toll of Argentina's Dirty War, whose atrocities can still upend the most cloistered and prosperous lives. On a Night of a Thousand Stars turns one woman's genealogical quest into a searing indictment of the complicity inherent in cultural silence." - Jennifer Egan, New York Times bestselling author of Manhattan Beach

"This novel sheds light on a dark chapter in Argentina's history, the effects of the country's worst dictatorship, and the consequences for those left behind and those who survived." - Greer Hendricks, New York Times bestselling co-author of The Wife Between Us

"A powerful debut about a chapter in history that must be told." - Janice Y.K. Lee, New York Times bestselling author of The Expatriates and The Piano Teacher

"In luminescent prose and exquisite detail, Andrea Yaryura Clark chronicles a family's history through the political turmoil of Argentina's Dirty War and beyond. Both heart-rending and hopeful, On a Night of a Thousand Stars explores the strength and endurance of love and familial bonds in the face of chaos and tragedy. A deeply moving, timely and important debut." - Cristina Alger, New York Times bestselling author of Girls Like Us

"Andrea Yaryura Clark's deep understanding of the complexity and savagery of Argentine history brings an authority to this gripping novel, a chilling reminder of the precariousness of human rights and the extraordinary bravery of those fighting to preserve freedom for all." - Lisa Gornick, author of The Peacock Feast

"In Andrea Clark's debut novel, she has accomplished the remarkable feat of rendering the political and the human story, telling a painful narrative of lives lost, Argentinian history, and the family. Brava and welcome." - Roxana Robinson, Author of Dawson's Fall

This information about On a Night of a Thousand Stars was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Jane Morrison

Great Historical Fiction
I love reading about historical events that I don't know anything about. This was a well-written interesting account.

Shawna (TX)

Family Secrets
In a dual storyline, Andrea Yaryura Clark tells a story of family and secrets amidst the brutal backdrop of Argentina in the 1970s. As a reader who loves historical fiction, this novel takes place during a period which I knew little about. Clark successfully shares Argentinian history but in the development of the story and not a history lesson stuck in the narrative. Paloma, the daughter of Santiago and Lila Larrea, raised in the United States returns to Argentina with her parents for her father's political appointment. As Paloma searches for answers about her parent's past, Clark beautifully tells the horrific events of Argentina's Dirty War. Book groups will have much to discuss regarding Argentina's history and current events in the world, as well as family relationships. What makes a family, what secrets should be kept, and what should be told. Is there ever a right time to share events of your life with your children. On a Night of a Thousand Stars is a story to be read and discussed!

Claudia G. (Orange City, FL)

Family Secrets
Every family has secrets, but most secrets are not as compelling as the secrets Paloma Larrea tries to uncover. Paloma, the daughter of a wealthy Argentinian family, sweeps us into her search to discover what her father did during the political turmoil of Argentina's "dirty war". From the first page I was totally involved with the characters and felt Paloma's emotions as she uncovered details about her father and many patriots who suffered death, torture and persecution during a period little known to most readers.
I was captivated till the very end of the book, and I hope the author, Andrea Yaryura Clark, has more books in store for readers of historical fiction. . .

Nathalie M. (Cleveland, OH)

Loved it!
This book is so beautifully written and also informative on the history of Argentina during the Dirty War of the 1970s. Going in to this, I had zero knowledge of Argentina's history at that time (too recent to be in history books, yet too long ago that it was before I was born) so I definitely learned a lot while reading and was still entertained with the story line containing romance and family secrets. The story flips back and forth between chapters from Paloma in 1998 wanting to learn more about her father's history, to her father, Santiago, and his time during the 1970s. These alternating perspectives always had me excited to read what would happen next. I highly recommend this book if you enjoy historical fiction and would like to learn more about this time period.

Wanda T. (The Villages, FL)

On a Night of a Thousand Stars
I admit I am a historical fiction addict. On a Night of a Thousand Stars by Andrea Yaryura Clark took me to a time and place about which I knew virtually nothing. Argentina in the '70s was in turmoil and entered a time of chaos with kidnappings and assassinations. The story follows the lives of Santiago, Valentina and their friends as they try to survive the times. Alternating chapters take place in 1998 as Santiago's daughter get caught up trying to find out what happened to the thousands of people who disappeared during this time. This is a story of love and loss with a few surprises thrown in.

It grabbed my attention from the beginning and inspired me to explore this time in Argentina's history.
I highly recommend this book!!

Alyce T. (San Antonio, TX)

On a Night of a Thousand Stars
I read this book in slightly over one day. I could not put it down. Andrea Clark does a fantastic task of telling the story of a daughter going back 20 years to discover how her family fit into the Argentina Dirty War of the 1970s. The author smoothly covers transitioning between the 1970s and 1990s. She describes the gaps in the history of both decades while covering the love stories in both periods. You finish the book with a desire to visit Argentina.

...38 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Andrea Yaryura Clark Author Biography

Andrea Yaryura Clark grew up in Argentina amid the political violence of the 1970s until her family moved to North America. After completing her university studies, she returned to Buenos Aires to reconnect with her roots. She followed with interest the stories then emerging about the children of the "disappeared"—the youngest victims of Argentina's military dictatorship in the 1970s—who were coming of age and grappling with the fates of their families. She conducted numerous interviews documenting their stories, which inspired her debut novel of historical fiction. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, two sons and a spirited terrier.

Author Interview
Link to Andrea Yaryura Clark's Website

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