As a CBC Radio One fanatic, I decided to choose the winner of the CBC Books’ 2012 Canada Reads as our September pick. Our book club regularly enjoys reading Canadian authors, and I wanted to delve into something a little different for the month of September. Before I joined the “Unputdownable” Book Club, you could usually find me immersed in some sort of political genre. For the last year and a half, I have expanded my horizons – putting down the political and non-fiction stuff – and have been reading more fictional stories. That all said, I wanted to choose something that touched on my guilty political pleasure, but I also wanted to be exposed to something I knew nothing about. Enter: Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter.
This book provides an interesting perspective of the political landscape during revolutionary South America in the 1970s and 1980s. Eleven-year-old Carmen Aguirre finds herself returning to war-torn South America after living in exile in Vancouver for five years. As active resistance members, Carmen’s mother and stepfather acquaint both her and her younger sister Ale to the reality of assuming double lives. Carmen takes the reader on a journey inside Pinochet’s Chile, in addition to escaping to Bolivia, Argentina and Peru. Throughout the memoir, we see Carmen making stark distinctions between her childhoods in Canada and South America, while grappling with her own identity. She educates us on what it means to dedicate oneself to a lifelong cause, as she herself risks her own life to join the resistance as a militant in her young adult years.
This is more than a single perspective about the war on neo-liberalism; this story provides a very poignant and often humourous understanding of how a child experienced the dark side of revolutionary South America. Juggling trips to grandma’s house, while kissing boys and listening to Michael Jackson, the reader is submerged into Carmen’s suspenseful journey of growing up in regimes governed by terror.
I enjoyed this book, but as we discussed at our previous meeting, we questioned if we would recommend it to anyone within our networks. The consensus was probably not – unless you knew someone who was super interested in revolutionary South America. We agreed, however, that the novel introduced us to an era of political history which was previously unexplored by the majority of our members.
Living in the west, we are often exposed to the triumphs and successes of the IMF and the World Bank. Something Fierce allowed me to think critically about the harsh transition into a neo-liberal society in South America. Unlike in the United States, we see how this particular model of democracy negatively impacted South American citizens through violent and torturous measures. Moreover, I am satisfied with this book. Aguirre transported me into a world in which I have difficulty relating, but also exposed me to the life of a revolutionary living in exile on Canadian soil.