"Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter" by Carmen Aguirre


When Carmen Aguirre was six years old, a violent coup unseated the President of her home country Chile and replaced him with the repressive regime of General Augusto Pinochet.  Carmen, her parents, and her younger sister Ale fled the country and headed for Canada, where they carved out a suburban life dedicated to educating people about the injustices in their homeland. 

Then, in 1978 the Chilean resistance put out a call for the exiled activists, including Carmen's parents, to return to Latin America and fight to give back rights to the people.  Carmen's parents took up the call and the family returned, travelling through Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile, setting up safe houses, gathering intelligence and devoting their lives to the resistance. 

Carmen and her sister lived double lives, spending their days as middle class school girls but privy to the inner workings of the resistance.  They lived in fear of their neighbours or friends finding out who they really were and of their parents being caught or kidnapped by the government.  Eventually they returned to Canada due to the threatening nature of their work.  But Carmen found herself feeling the pull back to Latin America and at the age of 18 she moved back to Argentina to join the resistance herself.

Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter is a funny, dark, and thoughtful look at the life Carmen Aguirre lived, at the struggles her family and countless others went through to bring justice and equality to Latin America.  It's hard to believe that a young girl could live such an incredible and terrifying life and Aguirre relates the story with the maturity and humour of a woman looking back fondly at a turbulent life.

I love how natural and down to the earth the writing in this book is.  At times you felt that Aguirre was relaying the story as though everyone grew up as a member of a political resistance movement.  The understanding is there that fighting against injustice is a natural thing to do no matter how big your opponent is.  There are no overt attempts to convert the reader to her beliefs as the writing and easy story-telling tells you exactly why the cause was necessary.  There are also no apologies to the people who may disagree with her life.  Carmen and her family were committed to the resistance and this is a fascinating first-hand account of what people put on the line to bring democracy to their homelands.

While I know of what happened in Latin America in the between 1973 and the early 1990's, it surprised and shocked me to read of what was happening in the not so distant past.  Aguirre's story illustrates the beauty of the makeup of Canada, the people who populate our country with stories of struggle and the desire to make this world a better place.  It really makes you appreciate what we have in our own countries, the people who have fought to get us here and the people around the world who are fighting for the same rights we enjoy.

Anyone who has in interest in Latin America or social justice will really enjoy this book.   And anyone who wants to read a good story and is looking for a fascinating, well-written memoir should definitely pick this one up.  There is no surprise to see that this book was a Canada Reads 2012 True Stories contender as well as long-listed for the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction. 

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