After the Chilean coup in 1973, Something Fierce author Carmen Aguirre and her family were forced to flee. Due to an agreement between Augusto Pinochet and Pierre Trudeau in which the Canadian Prime Minister (p 6) "agreed to offer asylum to Chilean refugees," the Aguirres became "one of the first Chilean refugee families to arrive" in Canada. Her memoirs begin in June of 1979 with the family, consisting of the then 11-year-old Carmen, her 10-year-old sister Ale, their mother (also named Carmen), and her stepfather, Bob, at LAX. The girls learn they are headed to La Paz, Bolivia, where, in response to the Return Plan, their parents plan to take part in the resistance. While many members of the resistance sent their children off to (p 100) "to live with Cuban families who'd volunteered to raise them or with grandparents somewhere else," "As far as [Ale and Carmen's mother] was concerned, a woman shouldn't have to choose between motherhood and revolution. She wanted both," so she kept her daughters close. Ms. Aguirre's mother proclaims (p 7), "To be in the resistance is a matter of life and death. To say the wrong thing to the wrong person is a matter of life and death," thus the family is forced to live a cautious, dual life, in which they try to fit in and avoid calling attention to themselves. As such, they rub elbows and break bread with both supporters and opponents of the movement.
During the approximately 10-year period covered in her memoirs, from age 11 to 21, the author recounts many of the types of experiences one might expect the average girl to have: interacting with family, friends, boyfriends and acquaintances during an impressionable time, but the play backs show her heightened awareness for differences in the social classes (p 29), "I was sorry that Peru wouldn't be our last stop. I wanted us to join the resistance here so we could help the angry teenagers in the streets and the little boy outside the hotel and the chambermaid whose children were dying of diarrhea and the Indian family who had carried the tables and chairs for the Austrians and this old mule take the streets and squares and mountains and make Peru their own," and understanding of the potential danger, (p 16) "I knew I'd aim a stone at those paramilitaries and miss, and then I'd be tortured with electric shocks and sent to the firing squad..." Resentful of the situation, Carmen sometimes acts out, and engages in rebellious, destructive behaviors. While a lot of its subject matter is serious, Ms. Aguirre's story is not without humor, for example, her mother, shod in platform shoes, saying (p 1), "Firing squad to the woman hater who invented heels," and the author's contention that two different dictionaries (rich and poor) are required in Peru (p 23), `If you looked up the word bathroom in the Poor Peru dictionary, the definition would be: "Just over the hill there." If you looked it up in the Rich Peru dictionary, the definition would read: "Marble room with gold taps and its own servant to keep it sparkling."' Because her mother did such a good job of inculcating her, (p 15) "we didn't believe in charity...We believed in revolution...A classless society is what we were fighting for...," and, (p 32) `Genocide was committed in the name of the Church and progress. That's why we are atheists,"' it should come as no surprise to readers that, at age 18, Ms. Aguirre takes the oath and joins the movement.
Although I appreciated becoming less ignorant about the resistance movement, I found myself thinking about what was going on in my own life through age 21, working to pay my own way through college in order to obtain a degree in a challenging field of study that would allow me to earn a decent wage upon graduation, that is, heading towards towards capitalism. Something Fierce, the Canada Reads selection for 2012, is an important, informative, ingenuous coming-of-age story about a girl's experience as a revolutionary's daughter and eventual revolutionary. Also good: 11 Years in Soviet Prison Camps by Elinor Lipper, Even Silence Has an End by Ingrid Betancourt and Red Azalea by Anchee Min.