It wasn’t until close to the end of Something Fierce, Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter, that Carmen Aguirre’s youthful account of navigating war torn and dictatorship-ravaged South America in the 1980s began to capture my heart.
It was futile to wait for my spirit to join my body again. I realized as I stood in that Patagonian phone company that maybe it never would. This was the biggest sacrifice I’d have to make. The body cannot take chronic terror; it must defend itself by refusing to harbour the spirit that wants to soar through it and experience life to the fullest. And so it was that, as we stepped outside into the glaring light, got on the first bus we saw and zigzagged our day away, my spirit was left back in the phone company along with the mirrored windows and the echo of voices connecting to far-off homes.
At that point, Aguirre seemed to finally and tellingly encapsulate the profound trauma that the life forced on her by her Chilean revolutionary parents had wrought on her bodily, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. To that point, Something Fierce had intermittently captured my interest with its understandably uneven account of a girl growing to young womanhood living the double and triple life of a political refugee in Canada and undercover resistance operative in Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile. The story veers from a firsthand account of the upheaval, injustice and at times mortal danger of the brutal Pinochet regime – in essence, the disturbing and enraging facts and figures of Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine brought to life – to the fancies, dreams, desires, fashion and pop culture whimsies, moods and petulance of a typical teenager perhaps anywhere in the world.
At times, the juxtaposition of a child’s or young woman’s quotidian aspirations with life threatening situations put each world in stark relief. In other instances, it struck dissonant notes, making none of it seem real or resonant. Overriding that was this reader’s discomfort with the decisions of the child’s parents which might have been well meaning, dedicated, passionate, but were also idealistic, naive and heedless, putting this girl and her siblings in extraordinary and almost continuously inhumane circumstances. I admired Aguirre’s precocious and preternatural resilience, but couldn’t get past her use as something just mere shades away from a child soldier, however worthy the cause.
As one of the Canada Reads 2012 finalists, is Something Fierce the book that all Canadians should read? If this book is supposed to say something essential about Canada and being Canadian to all Canadians, I’m not sure. Canada’s role in Aguirre’s story is as something of a stopping or resting point between revolutionary forays. As such, Canada could be viewed as a sanctuary, but it’s seems to be a convenient stopover (in contrast to fellow Canada Reads contender Prisoner of Tehran, where Canada is viewed as a peaceful, protective haven and a truly desired new home). Certainly, Aguirre’s continued life and career is testament that Canada became a home, but this isn’t part of the story or a significant part of the epilogue of Something Fierce. Inspiring to all Canadians, though, is a profile of a young and determined individual to be faithful to family, home and convictions.
Pinochet ‘dictatorship’ textbook row erupts in Chile
January 4, 2012
BBC News, Latin America and Caribbean
My reviews of other Canada Reads 2012 finalists: