Carmen Aguirre was destined to become a revolutionary. Born a week after the death of Che Guevara, Aguirre grew up in a household obsessed with social upheaval: her mother and stepfather were part of the underground movement that spread throughout South America following Augusto Pinochet’s violent 1973 coup in Chile. Aguirre, a Vancouver-based playwright, details her experiences as the daughter of committed revolutionaries in this lively, often tense memoir.
Aguirre’s story, which covers the late 1970s and ’80s, begins at age nine, when her mother plucks her and her younger sister, Ale, from their seemingly average immigrant existence in Vancouver and takes them to La Paz, Bolivia (with excursions into Argentina and Chile), so they can join the revolution there. The memoir’s tension is less a result of the geopolitical insanity that surrounds them than the friction between Aguirre’s typical teenage desire for self-expression and the revolutionary obligations foisted on her by her mother. The first half of the book shows Aguirre doing many of the things young girls might do – chasing boys, obsessing about clothes, eating fast food – and how these inclinations butt up against the philosophical underpinnings of her parent’s beliefs.
By the second half of the book, Aguirre has turned away from her “bourgeois” desires and fully committed herself to life as a radical. She marries young and, with her husband, takes a nondescript job in Argentina as cover for her involvement in the revolutionary movement. Yet the contradictions between the personal and the political persist as the campaign to oust Pinochet builds to a crescendo. Aguirre reveals – perhaps without meaning to – the inherently undemocratic nature of their cause: she puts no stock in Chile’s 1988 plebiscite on Pinochet’s leadership, even though it came out roundly in opposition to the dictator.
Aguirre has written a fascinating, warts-and-all portrait of herself, her family, and South America. The book is a brave document, written by someone who is clearly no stranger to bravery.