Three O'Clock Press contacted me to meet with an author who had just published her first novel. In addition to being a poet, translator, educator and a political and social activist, this writer had also worked in the Chilean underground movement from the late 1970s to the early 1980s. This new novelist was Carmen Rodriguez, the revolutionary mother of Carmen Aguirre, author of Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter, which is one of the top 10 books selected for this year's CBC Canada Reads competition.
As you will remember, Something Fierce played over in my mind well after I`d turned the last page (For a full review click here). So needless to say, I was more than a little intimidated to meet Carmen Aguirre's revolutionary mother. But I was also intrigued. I wanted to meet the woman who had cleared paths alone through the Andes, from Argentina to Chile, for four days at a time.
Carmen Rodriguez's book, Retribution, arrived a few days before I met the author. I found this book a highly satisfying and moving read, and like Something Fierce, I was unable to put it down. I met Carmen a half-hour before her reading at the Paragraphe Bookstore on McGill College, here in Montreal. Rodriguez is a petite woman with a broad smile and vibrant personality. One thing I knew after meeting her--no one would ever suspect her of running safe houses in Bolivia and Argentina.
Retribution is a story of three generations of Chilean women, spanning 70 years. The narrative opens in Vancouver with granddaughter Tania receiving a letter through the Chilean Consulate informing her that her father may be a man who tortured and raped women during the Chilean coup in 1973. Sol, her mother, is a teacher and left-wing activist, while Soledad, Tania's grandmother, is someone caught in the crossfire between Chile's political extremes. At the time of the coup, the military ransack Soledad's home and beat her severely for the political activities of her two children. The family eventually flees Chile to live in Canada. But unlike many books about the 1973 coup, the book goes well beyond the high drama of this pivotal moment in Chilean history and sheds some light on the devastating emotional trauma that political refugees experience later in their host countries.
When I started to ask Carmen some questions about Retribution, she immediately told me that it was not autobiographical. But as we all know, fiction always has a part of the writer's life in the story. I learned that Retribution had taken 14 years to write. It started with two short stories that eventually fused together to become one. I was interested in some specific details in the book. I learned from the author that 38 Londres Street, Villa Grimaldi, Cuarto Alamos, Tres Alamos, the centres where left-wing activists were tortured, had indeed existed.
But sometimes, it's the less dramatic events in a book that give the narrative its flesh and blood--its realism. In the story, just before the coup in 1973, Sol and her friends are eating in a restaurant when a handful of young men all dressed in black with white swastikas on their shirts and bearing truncheons begin a military demonstration in front of the bewildered restaurant patrons. At the end, the leader reads a speech denouncing international communism and praising the fatherland. The author told me that this event had actually happened to her in 1973.
The complete review of this book and interview with Carmen Rodriguez will be posted at Rover: Montreal Arts Uncovered and on my blog in a month or so.
In the meantime, I`ll be crossing my fingers that Something Fierce makes it to the finals of 2012 Canada Reads.
Review: Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter
Interview with Carmen Aguirre, Chilean Resistance Fighter
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