Book Review: Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre

At last night’s book club, we had a lively discussion about Carmen Aguirre’s memoir, Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter. While most of us were fascinated by the book and welcomed the opportunity to learn more about Chile, we had different opinions regarding the parenting of Carmen and her sister, Ale.

When Carmen was five years old, her family left Chile and began a new life in Vancouver. Six years later, her mother (Mami) decided to return and join the revolutionary movement against Pinochet’s dictatorship. Separated from her husband, Mami decided to take her two daughters with her.

What follows is Carmen’s coming of age story set against the frightening backdrop of Chile in the 1980s. Moving from city to city and country to country across South America, the children were left with a revolving door of babysitters as Mami and her partner, Bob, were on assignment. At one point in the story, Carmen is left alone too long and her money runs out. She hides in the apartment and morphs into an “agoraphobic 15-year-old skeleton with obsessive compulsive disorder.” Interestingly enough, Carmen thought life in the Resistance was normal and decided to become a revolutionary at age eighteen.

While some of the other club members made allowances for Mami, feeling that she authentically cared for her children and wanted them to experience her love and passion for Chile, I tend to agree with Ale’s comment: “Here’s a revolutionary thought: provide for your children and pay attention to them.”

In a CBC interview, Carmen spoke of her love and admiration for Mami. While Carmen would never put her own child through that experience, she did offer insight into her mother’s behavior. Born in an upper middle class home, Mami was not raised in the Resistance movement and had no clue about its effects on young children. Mami took to heart the words of her Resistance oath: “I am committed to giving my life to the cause. I will die for the cause if need be. From now on, my entire life is dedicated to the cause, which takes precedence over everything else.”

To date, very little has been written about the Chilean revolution in English literature. In writing Something Fierce, Carmen Aguirre has filled that void.

An excellent read that will  evoke strong feelings.