Book Review: Carmen Aguirre’s Something Fierce

Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary DaughterSomething Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter by Carmen Aguirre
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On my last visit home to Vancouver, a friend gave me this book; I think he knows the author. When I first became friends with Allan in the 1990, some of his best friends were Chilean, and others were from Latin America. I’d just returned from a youth exchange in Ecuador. I found the Latin culture both passionate and political, and I was also interested in the immigrants from Latin America to Canada in those years. I was a volunteer buddy for an El Salvadorean man who’d claimed asylum in Canada; a simple man, he’d had children killed by both sides of the conflict there.

But now, it has been many years since my mind has wandered to that region, living in Australia now and in Europe before that. This rather amazing book brought my mind back to my younger days, and my attraction to the region, but it also unveiled something else, feelings of both wonder and horror. Wonder that at the time I was little formed in high school and college that a young, passionate woman of nearly the same age had given her whole life to a cause, working in the political underground, fighting for a better Chile; and horror too, remembering how many people were killed under Pinochet’s regime, all the other lives and families damaged and disappeared in the name of power, repression and greed.

It brought the politics of time to life in a very engaging and personal way: the story of the terrible politics of many of the countries there, the American support of dictators and killers to promote their economic interests. Aguirre’s story delves down to the level of families and neighbours: rich military kids in the same classes or neighbourhoods as the suffering underclass, or her and her family members, working for a revolution, spied on, in danger, and her extended family, some poles apart from each politically within the same households.

Yet the story is also woven into stories of making friends, the distance and intimacy of family, and various sexual and romantic awakenings. Born from the truth of experience and memory, the writing doesn’t feel embellished or that it simplifies what the author has been through.

For perhaps the last decade the adjective ‘fierce’ has been adopted by the gay community to describe attitude and strength, perhaps exhibited by a drag queen unafraid to cross gender boundaries, or to be subject to abuse or attention. It’s a different kind of fierce here: fiery, honest, political, passionate, brave and even flirtatious. But yes, something fierce.

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