Sunday, June 16, 2013

Review of Something Fierce, by Carmen Aguirre

This was a difficult book to read. The style, the writing, the tone, the pace all were well done. The odd mix of the combination of a young girl's coming of age(complete with "boy crazy" nice clothes and music) matched with a revolutionary education and revolutionary parents(revolutionary, not activist, this book was clear on the difference) were intriguing, insightful and moving.

But the difficulty for me arose from the heartbreaking conditions the people of south america were subjected to back in the seventies and eighties. Aguirre deftly moves between a young girls eye opening experiences with poverty, injustice, state oppression, racism and the real price of neoliberalism. She does not turn her eyes away from what she sees. And what she sees is described unflinchingly: student protesters burned alive in the streets, the survivors of torture camps with twisted nails and limps, dragging their bodies to the local market, Indian senior citizens made to be "mules" carrying luggage weighing hundreds of pounds on their backs and laughed and jeered at in the streets.
And Aguirre writes of what she sees not through the lens of some political dogmatism, or some abstract plan to change the political structure, she writes of the outrage she feels as a human being, and then takes action as a result. She acts out of the need for change. Her revolutionary spirit, her ideas, her observations, her plans, she does not hide from what she sees as wrong. She refuses to look away, to pretend its something other than what it is. And the books strength rests with that.

In a strange sense this book reminded me a lot of Homage to Catalonia. Lionel Trilling wrote in his introduction to that book that Orwell was not a genius but a writer who accomplished a lot just by keeping his eyes open. I don't entirely agree with his definition, and there are parts of Aguirre's book that are genius, but the statement about keeping his eyes open applies very much to Aguirre.

While others in her set are getting stoned at parties and hanging out in malls Aguirre and her family are organizing, housing the fugitives and dissidents, working constantly through subversion and activism to make their world better. She looks around her and refuses to believe that things "have to be this way."

She is hardworking, diligent, intelligent, and inspired. But there comes a point in the book where she breaks down. Where the "terror," as she refers to her frightening experiences of being searched and mentally tortured, overtakes her still. These scenes are brutal, and painful, and made me squirm. But also, in an extended sense, made me understand that things such as this happen.

The end of the book was sudden, and won't spoil it. I do hope she writes a sequel about her life as an actor and writer of plays, and her work in the theater. Though she may have stopped being undercover, running goods and documents for the revolutionaries over mountain paths, her life is intriguing and I hope there is more to come of what happened after.

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