The smell of my own fear

Smell of My Own Fear, Translation Joanie Rafidi


This was the hardest translation from Swedish to English I’ve ever done. And I don’t mean technically or grammatically. I mean Emotionally. I had to stop after every chapter since I was imagining all too clearly, the actual tortures that are thoroughly described in this true-life non-fictional book.

The book is not meant to dredge up horror stories but as the victim, Blanca Firpo, seen on the front cover says, “I want the world to know what really happened in the Argentina Dirty Wars and to let everyone know that we will never stop looking for those who went missing.”

Also know as the Process of National Reorganization,  and enacted by the Argentine Military Government for a period of state terrorism from roughly 1974 to 1983, Firpo’s story is heart-wrenchingly based on her time as a prisoner and put into story form by her good friend and author, Marie Sälmack.

Here is an excerpt from chapter 1:

Blanca – concentration camp prisoner number 297

“Who said I´m alive?”

“How could you survive?”, I asked. You look at me: “Who said I’m alive?” Slowly you turn and blow out your cigarette smoke encapsulating your small kitchen. A spray with the air cleaner and I say nothing more.

My first reaction is to protest. Not alive? I know about your life. Your children, grandchildren, friends who survived the concentration camp, other friends, a job, politics, the union, everything around you reflects a living person. How can you who lived so close to death question what life is? Later, I would get the answer.

As a friend, I have a duty to ask questions yet be professional. Blanca wants me to write her book.

“What did the military do to you?”

“Do you want to know how I was tortured?”

No Blanca. I don’t want to know, but I have to know, I thought. How can I otherwise write your story? I need to know what happened to you, your friend Inés, with your colleagues, with those who survived, with those who died, and with those who disappeared.

“Besides rape and beatings“, you stand in the doorway lift up your hands and continue,

“I got electrical shocks here, here, here and here.”

In the ears, nose, mouth, breast nipples, vagina and maybe somewhere else on your body that I do not see. My eyes are shut. I have to write about how you and other women who were systematically raped, about how you were tortured by the use of electric rods that were stuffed deeply and tightly into every available body cavity by their torturers.

I have to write about how the torturers took small children and electrocuted them by laying them on their parents’ naked bodies; I have to write about how cockroaches and rats ate the bloody sores on your bodies; how the guards kicked your heads; how the dead were burned together with rubber tires to mask the smell of human flesh burning. And everything else you told me.


If you can handle it, I highly suggest you read it.


Want to know more, I found this by the New Yorker:

Children of the Dirty War – The New Yorker


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