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Brilliant, searing and enthralling
on February 7, 2012
Carmen Aguirre is a Vancouver playwright whose family fled Chile shortly after the brutal dictator Pinochet seized power in 1973.
Both of her parents had been university professors, who had supported Chile's democratically-elected president Salvador Allende.
Suspecting them of subversion, soldiers came to their home shortly following the military coup, but her parents weren't there. Carmen recounts what happened to her, then 5 years old, and her 4-year-old sister Ale:
"A few days earlier a soldier had knocked on our door and threatened to arrest my mother for wearing pants. In the days following the coup, a warning was issued that women would no longer wear the pants in Chile. There were already women in jail for not wearing skirts, and women in the streets with their pants torn to shreds by soldiers...
The soldiers pushed Ale and me up against the wall of the house... `Oh well', he said, `I guess it's the firing squad for you two.' The other soldiers laughed too, as if that was the funniest thing they'd ever heard.
`Turn around', he ordered Ale and me. I took her shoulders and turned her so she faced the wall. Then I did the same. `Hands up. Both of you,' the soldiers yelled. Ale raised her arms. I did too. I heard my teeth chattering in my skull, and then the soldier's voice from very far away: `Ready. Aim. Fire.' I was shaking so hard I thought I'd fall down. Ale and I stood there, swaying in the mud, as the soldiers got in their vehicles and drove away.'"
Her family fled to Canada as refugees shortly thereafter, but five years later, when Carmen was still only 11 years old, her parents made the heart-rending decision to return to South America to courageously support the Resistance.
Something Fierce is a brilliant, searing and enthralling memoir of Carmen's childhood and adolescence in those terrifying circumstances, and of her own eventual commitment to the cause of justice.
Her trenchant insight will remind you of Naomi Klein; her literary skill echoes that of Rawi Hage; and the unforgettable imagery of childhood in the midst of fascist brutality recalls the film Pan's Labyrinth. But Aguirre's voice is uniquely her own, incisive and resilient. 5 stars!