In June 1979, when Vancouver playwright and actor Carmen Aguirre was 11 years old, her world changed forever—for the second time in her young life. The first momentous event was in 1973, when General Augusto Pinochet’s coup forced her family to flee Chile for Canada. But then, six years later, her mother and stepfather decided to take and her younger sister away from their comfortable school life here, and move back to strife-ridden South America to join the underground resistance.
The ensuing seven years found Aguirre bouncing between Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina via arduous mountain passes, chicken buses, and overnight trains. She had to drop all contact with new friends every time her family moved on, living in a constant state of dread that her parents would be arrested. Eventually, at just 18, Aguirre put herself in further peril, joining the resistance against Pinochet’s right-wing regime herself.
The years of her tumultuous teens are evocatively detailed in, Something Fierce, that illuminates what it’s like to come of age amid terror. What it is most certainly not
is a political treatise or a book about heroism or martyrdom. What you get is a brutally honest and wryly funny story, told through the eyes of a girl young enough to yearn for cork-soled platforms and steal kisses with boys but old enough to know the people arriving at her parents’ safe house in La Paz, Bolivia, are limping and exhausted because they’ve been tortured. Horrible things happened in South America during the 70’s and 80’s and especially in Chile.
“A lot of books written about revolutionaries, for lack of a better word, portray people who do this kind of work as heroic, as superhuman somehow,” says Aguirre. “And I wanted to do the opposite—to portray myself and those around me as completely imperfect human beings who decided to give their lives to a cause, and the toll that that takes psychologically, emotionally, and physically.”
This is a book all should read. It reminds me of
OVERTHROW: America’s Century of Regime Change by STEPHEN KINZER
which tells the story of the US involvement in overthrowing elected governments. The link will take you to my review.