In the Blog
Book Review: Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre
SOMETHING FIERCE: MEMOIRS OF A REVOLUTIONARY DAUGHTER Carmen Aguirre [Douglas & McIntyre]
[This review is expanded from the winter issue of Shameless.]
Probably every twelve-year-old child has received strict instructions from their mother; but not every twelve-year-old would remember a situation where confusing the given instructions meant the difference between life and death. In Something Fierce, winner of the CBC Books 2012 Canada Reads: True Stories competition, Carmen Aguirre recalls many such situations as she brilliantly depicts her upbringing as the daughter of Chilean revolutionaries who fled Pinochet’s Chile to find safety in Canada.
We embark on her journey at the moment when Carmen’s mother makes the tough decision to leave Canada with her daughters in 1979 and go back to Chile to fight alongside the Chilean socialist resistance. There are moments of stability as Carmen and her younger sister Ale get settled for a short period of time into their grandparents’ home and attend the local school, but their safety is constantly in jeopardy. Carmen, as the older sister, is very aware of this reality and is careful and attentive in her handling of Ale. Carmen and Ale are conscious of how they must behave, whom to trust and what to keep secret from their friends at school. At times, the young girls are left with their grandparents while their mother and stepfather join the resistance.
At a time in one’s life where one would hope for safety and security, which the girls certainly receive from their grandparents, they never know if they’re going to see their parents again. We witness the courage of Carmen and Ale and the relentless love and devotion they have for their parents and the cause. Carmen also displays an acute awareness of class issues in Chile, and from a young age, recognizes that the efforts of her parents are completely necessary for a just society. As readers, we experience moments of turmoil, as Carmen and her sister become active participants in the revolution, and moments of everyday girlhood, such as when Carmen deals with getting her period and having her first kiss.
I was most struck by the trust and understanding that this family shares, not only in the way that Carmen reveres her mother but also in her level of responsibility and way in which her mother treats her. Both Carmen and Ale are not treated like innocent, naive girls. Their mother knows that exposure to these kinds of revolutionary actions can deeply change how they views the world, and she is unhesitant and forthcoming in discussing the outcomes of their resistance.
While Carmen reflects on the life they left behind in Canada, most notably talking about her father, she does not suggest that she would have preferred a different kind of action. There are no moments of resentment; rather, Aguirre recognizes that this is just part of living a meaningful life.
Erica Beatson is currently completing a Masters of Arts in Women’s Studies and Feminist Research at the University of Western Ontario.