Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Think about your childhood. Was it anything close to this?
At age eleven, Carmen Aguirre was in the food court of LAX with her mother who is dressed like one of Charlie’s Angels and biting into a Big Mac in order to look like a middle class tourist. Originally from Chile, Carmen and her family had taken refuge in Canada when Pinochet staged a coup and cracked down on dissent. The reality was that her mother had joined the underground Chilean resistance movement and was bringing Carmen and her sister along for The Return Plan. Aguirre spent the next ten years moving between revolutionary Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Canada, constantly on the move, with her parents disappearing for weeks at a time.
Carmen at first embraced the adventure, but as she became a rebellious teen, she started to act out and became the Kissing Queen of her Bolivian neighbourhood. Several moves later, in Argentina, she stopped coming home because she could not face the uncertainty and the terror.
At one point, I wondered what Aguirre’s mother actually did in the resistance. Carmen as a child did not know and, since we are witnessing the story from a child’s point of view, the facts are not revealed to us. What is more important is how Carmen spent her childhood. Eventually, we do find out what is expected of a resistance fighter when Carmen, herself, joins the group. Truly, it is surprising that she joins the cause since she suffers from The Terror: the pervasive fear that keeps her consistently twenty pounds underweight and paranoid, causes the separation of body and soul, and creates the necessity to develop deadly cool nerves.
I loved this book. I’m debating right now which book is my favourite for Canada Reads: The Tiger or Something Fierce. Carmen Aguirre’s book is an education on a lifestyle that you would only see in a movie. She has exposed what life was like in the underground – and that it was real. Something Fierce is a fascinating look at living your politics, to truly fight for what you believe in. The book’s epigraph, “Courage” is a perfect introduction to the book.
The true test is that Something Fierce has activated my interest in South America. Perhaps a trip to this continent is in my future.
It is also a great book for Canada Reads because, like Marina Nemat’s Prisoner of Tehran, we learn more about the complex lives of our citizens.
Now, as I reflect on Something Fierce and think about my ESL classes, I wonder: Who is in my classroom?
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