babble book club final discussion of 'Something Fierce' by Carmen Aguirre

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babble book club final discussion of 'Something Fierce' by Carmen Aguirre

babble book club's new selection is Something Fierce: Memoir of a Revolutionary Daughter by Carmen Aguirre. The final discussion will be Friday November 1 at 2 p.m. EST on this thread!

Something Fierce tells the gripping tale of a six year old Aguirre forced to flee with her family to Canada during the violent Chilean coup that removed democratically elected socialist president Salvador Allende and began the reign of dictator General Augusto Pinochet.

When the Chilean resistance issued a call for exiled activists to return, Aguirre's mother and stepfather set up a safe house in Bolivia, thus ushering Aguirre into the movement. At 18, Aguirre joined the resistance and moved to Argentina with her husband to continue the fight.

The book is widelt available in libraries, independent bookstores and online as an ebook. If you need help finding a copy, let us know in the thread and we'll be happy to help you out!

Check out the books blog for more information on the selection and join our Facebook group for added fun and to meet some of the book clubbers in 'real life'.

Happy reading!

Issues Pages: 
Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Woot! I'm excited for this read!

Got my copy coming in from the library!

Caissa

Bought a copy Thursday night.

Unionist

Started reading yesterday (borrowed electronically from the library).

 

Caissa

Since as I finish Patrick Rothfuss, The Name ofthe Wind, I will be diving in. Got to hear Rothfuss speak on campus today.Great storyteller.

Jacob Two-Two

Just pulled it off the shelf at the library. I've been meaning to read this for a while now. I see this woman around the drive all the time, and seen her do some small performances at local events now and again, so I've been curious about this book since it came out. We're facebook friends too, though we've never spoken in person. maybe I'll send her the link for this thread.

Caissa

Picked up a soft cover copy of The Inconvenient Indian today. Tom King is reading on campus next Wednesday.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Jacob Two-Two wrote:

Just pulled it off the shelf at the library. I've been meaning to read this for a while now. I see this woman around the drive all the time, and seen her do some small performances at local events now and again, so I've been curious about this book since it came out. We're facebook friends too, though we've never spoken in person. maybe I'll send her the link for this thread.

ooooo! how very cool of you to be facebook friends with her! That would be neat if she checked out the thread ... I have been a tad swamped with things, and unfortunately that means the bbc takes a bit a back burner. (I hate to admit it, but I did.)

My library copy arrived today and I've got it burning a whole in my bag as we speak! Exciting to read this one, but might finish a book of, what else, short stories first, to time better with out end date.

Caissa -- that is super cool about Thomas King. Tell us how it goes!

Caissa

Read the first 50 pages of Something Fierce last night. The writing is clear and the narrative carries you along.  As the father of an 11 yea, I can't help but questions the judgement of the author's mother.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Caissa wrote:

Read the first 50 pages of Something Fierce last night. The writing is clear and the narrative carries you along.  As the father of an 11 yea, I can't help but questions the judgement of the author's mother.

Care to elaborate?

Caissa

I wouldn't be taking an 11 year old child from the relative safety of Vancouver to live an underground life in South America of the late seventies, early eighties.

Caissa

Finished it on the weekend. Found it a bit of a mediocre read. The Inconvenient Indian is reading so much better.

 

How are others doing with Something Fierce?

Unionist

74% finished. Sad to say, I don't see the point yet. Oh well, soldiering on.

Caissa

I had a difficult ime believing it won the Canada reads contest.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

I am holding a copy in my hands and about to take it out of the library. Let's see if they let me.

ETA: Made it!

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Mine is sitting in it's library wrapping yet to be read!

I'm surprised by the first recations Caissa and Unionist because of the hoopla around the whole thing! Not only Canada Reads -- which I think we all agree can be the worst -- but a lot of people/reviews in general have really praised this book.

Hmm, interested to dig in with a critical eye (if I can muster one up that is)

Caissa

How's the reading coming peeps?

ETA: If we set shorter reading times would people complete the books quicker? It seems regardless of the length of time many people procrastinate and read the book at the last moment.

Unionist

94%. Yeah, shorter times would probably do the trick, especially with the less enthralling books...

Unionist

Ok, finished at last. I liked the epilogue. But the book as a whole was all over the map. Figuratively as well as literally.

 

Caissa

One of the worst books I have read this year.

Unionist

Gregorian, Jewish, Chinese, or other?

Caissa

It would definitely be the worst this year in the Jewish calendar. Wink

Caissa

One week until the discussion.

Unionist

What's the process? When can discussion start and when does it end? Do we wait till everyone says they've finished reading?

Caissa

Discussion can take place at anytime, Unioinist. We always schedule one hour at the end of a period of time for which those who read it all gather online. Through Kaitlin's initiative we have had several author's join us for our discussion.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Hey all, a few things:

1. true to form, and since it has been a busy month, I am finishing up the book this week -- I know, I know.

2. Yes, to echo Caissa, please feel free to discuss the book at anytime; however, please try to leave any surprise "bombs" until the final disucssion this Friday.

3. EXCITING NEWS: we have been given the opportunity to submit questions to the author Carmen Aguirre after our discussion. She will answer the questions and I will post them on our books blog. This is a great opportunity to get some of those nagging questions off your back, obviously phrased with respect to the author.

Those questions will be submitted after our final conversation, but please feel free to drop any and all of those into this thread or our facebook group. So, it is kind of like an author discussion, but a bit more delayed and static.

Caissa

Now you are going to make me have to be polite. Wink How are you finding the book, Kaitlin?

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

*cough* haven't started *cough*

I got really into reading 'Visit from the Goon Squad' and a George Saunders books of essays. Starting tonight and going to power read. My usual style of course!

I have found it interesting that you two didn't enjoy it. So many have ranted and raved about this book!

Obviously, not everyone can like every book, but still, very surprising.

Caissa

Didn't you know that Unionist is my long lost elder brother?Wink Why is it surprising that Unionist and I did not enjoy it?

 

With all of the power reading that seems to take place, I think shortening time lines would allow BBC to read more books per year.

Caissa

I'll be late to the discussion. I have a commitment from 1:30 until 2:30 EST today.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Haha, I should have known!

Well, in full confession, the timeline was long this time because my parents were visting last weekend, so I abused my power to compensate for that :)

But yes, we can try shorter timelines for next time!

I'm really excited to discuss this book today! I have some thoughts, but I don't know if you all will like em!

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Also U and Caissa, I would be interested to start (either at 2pm or before, whatever, we're loose here) with your assessments of what you didn't like about the book.

I know you mentioned before that you disliked the book because of the actions of the mother, but I think that is separate from the actual book itself. And inside that, the author herself seems to echo those feelings at points.

It's an interesting conundrum because of the genre of memoir.

Hmmm...

Caissa

Ok. Let's call them separate issues. Yes, I am judgemental of a mother who takes her children from relative safety to a an unsafe place when there were other options for the mother.  Maybe, although I am not sure, this coloured my whole reading of the book. The rest of the book seemed to be mostly anecdotes of bouncing around various South American countries with very little happening. I was almost worth wondering if there was enough here to justify a memoir. I guess the subtitle: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter set expectations for me that I didn't feel were fulfilled.

Unionist

Hi! I was busy, but I'm here!

 

 

Unionist

I largely agree with Caissa's point about parental neglect, but I don't see that (and I don't think he does either) as a critique of the book qua book. It's a fact of life that I have witnessed myself. Maybe been guilty of, on a lesser scale, but let's not go there.

I said before that the book was all over the map, literally and figuratively, and that indicated to me a systemic problem. It's as if someone had kept an actual journal - a diary - mixing important with fleeting events, impressions, memories - and the reading is peering over the diarist's shoulder, reading entries as they fly by. I'm not saying it reads like an unedited diary. In fact, I think one of the redeeming (and ironically frustrating) virtues of the book is that the author's prose skills exist. She can put together a sentence well, even a paragraph, and that's kind of what kept me going. But when compared to either a novel or a nonfictional account (and this one is somewhere between the two), it is structurally unedited.

[cont. next post]

Unionist

Some random points for now:

1. It didn't manage the balance well between a child's memoir (which most of it is) and an account of counter-revolution and resistance. There are factoids about political events in Chile, Bolivia, Argentina... But they never add up to a coherent account. Those who don't already know the story of 1973 and the era of reaction that it reflected and heralded, won't get that understanding from reading this book. That's not my criticism - because it's clearly not the book's aim - but given this observation, much of those factoids should I think have just been left out.

2. It also didn't artistically manage the balance between exposing the resistance struggle and what motivated it, and the subjective feelings of a maturing girl. Which story did she want to tell? It must be possible to weave both together in a gripping way, but I wasn't gripped.

3. The author turns 18 and consciously, dramatically, takes up the revolutionary cause, until death if need be. I have no real understanding of why she did so. It's not stated, and it's not conveyed (to me at least) in unstated fashion either. So... I'm left with the uncomfortable analogy: the child of a devout Catholic family (substitute any religion you like) becomes a priest/monk/nun upon coming of age, just because that's the way things are in that family. Maybe some of you saw more deeply what her motivations were? Let me know if you did, preferably with reference to some passages I may have missed or misunderstood.

4. Going back to the "diary" phenomenon. Details, places, names of people. Either they are pertinent, in which case, dwell on them, bring them together, show me their significance. If not - leave them out. I couldn't figure out most of the time where we were geographically, who these people were who traipsed in and out of Carmen's life, and what I was to make of random detailed memories like these (I noted a few down or I never would have remembered them - I'll happily provide the context to anyone who wants to go back and see what I failed to see):

- papaya milkshakes (during some earthquake or bomb or something)

- Ale and Carmen arrive for some meeting "with 5 minutes to spare" (uh, so what? no narrative significance attached to that 5 minute gap; it didn't symbolize any undue eagerness; it was just as if she had said, "oh, we arrived at 12:19 daylight saving time")

- in some scene, someone was "pretending to read about a popular TV diva" (paraphrased).

- at the airport, just before a humiliating and terrifying and traumatic life event, the author is confronted by "a severe-looking woman in a light-blue smock". Really. Light blue. Ok.

Any of the many experiences and/or locations could, I think, have borne elaboration, colour, sound, more pages - and just remove 5 or so for every 1 that's chosen for detailed exposition. Maybe it's just me, but that's how objective events and subjective experiences and feelings come to resonate. Not a blur of sight and sound, as if speeding through life in a train.

 

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

So we are "officially" starting at 2pm, I know, but I'm going to write down my thoughts so I don't lose em!

I definitely hear what you are saying about the mother's judgements. I was also taken aback the fact of after fleeing a dangerous country and living in "safety" one would want to return to that life of terror. But, I have never known that loss or sense of urgency to fight, I must admit.

To continue in that line of just the mother's intent, I was curious about you two expanding your thoughts because Aguirre herself seems to battle with her life -- both choices and those situations made for her -- and what she is doing and why this happening, particularly when she is younger. She laments her feelings of lost childhood and fun. However, later and in the epilogue she thanks her mother for being the revolutionary and giving her that upbringing.

That seems to be a major theme throughout the book -- not only the obvious "what is right and what is wrong" -- but what does one do in the face of grave injustice.

I think the mother's intentions/actions can be divorced from affecting the book as it is a memoir and I personally felt very engaged with the text -- her writing style, the stories, what was going to happen next, so by that context, I would deem it a success. I was entertained, learned A LOT about South American politics and felt compassion for the people she wrote about.

When she wrote of closing off herself to emotions, losing her spirit, I really, really ached for her. I think we can all remember a time when fear or grief or whatever, on different scales, consumed us so we had to numb ourselves, and even on this incredibly heightened level, she manages to make that feeling, or lack thereof very universal to the reader.

Summing this up, I enjoyed the read and would recommend others to read it.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

OMG, the three of us are writing a novel. haha!

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Hi everyone! Welcome!

We have officially started!

As you can see, we were discussing our personal opinions of the mother's actions and how/if that affected the reading of the book. Please feel free to add your own comments to that discussion, or let us know your opinion of the book and what comments you have!

Unionist

Well, I can't viscerally disagree with what you're saying. Maybe it's personal - I just wasn't affected the same way. I didn't know the actors well enough to feel more compassion that I would generally do for strangers in reading the news. I didn't think that was good enough for a demi-novel.

I knew the history (though not all the details e.g. about Bolivia). I demonstrated along with a few dozen others on the day after 9/11 (the real one - 1973). I participated in minor ways in some solidarity groups of the time (80s). Maybe the book is important in at least enticing readers to find out more, if they're not already aware generally of those events.

By the way, I fished out the papaya example, so you'll understand what I mean about meaningless irrelevant distracting details - and this is just after she dedicates her life to the revolution:

Quote:
Just as I finished reciting the oath, a bomb went off down the street. The café’s windowpanes shook furiously. My knees hit the table so hard that our papaya milkshakes almost went flying. Lucas and Juan grabbed the glasses a millisecond before they slid off the table. Not a hair on their bodies moved, not a single goosebump formed on their skin. I looked around. The necking teenage couples necked harder. The Indian-blooded waiters in their starched jackets kept whistling as they wiped tables and counters. I heard military boots behind me, running past the open door of the café. I didn’t pass out, which would have been humiliating. Lucas and Juan were big fish, and I was just a tadpole. But as they took a final sip of their drinks, I knew I’d passed the test.

“Welcome to the resistance,” Juan said, raising his glass.

None of it makes sense to me. "Not a single goosebump formed on their skin." Etc. Ok, I get it, bombs are a normal fact of life for the people there, and here she is, making the drastic transition from a pampered Vancouver life to a fighter for the cause, trying to look the part... It just doesn't do it for me.

ETA: By the way, I won't have much to say about the mother. The book seems to me to be by the daughter, and about the daughter. I read it from that angle. All that we know of the mother is what is reported, and much of that appears to me to be mechanical. The inner struggles and motivations don't really manage to pierce the surface of perception.

 

 

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Unionist wrote:

I said before that the book was all over the map, literally and figuratively, and that indicated to me a systemic problem. It's as if someone had kept an actual journal - a diary - mixing important with fleeting events, impressions, memories - and the reading is peering over the diarist's shoulder, reading entries as they fly by. I'm not saying it reads like an unedited diary. In fact, I think one of the redeeming (and ironically frustrating) virtues of the book is that the author's prose skills exist. She can put together a sentence well, even a paragraph, and that's kind of what kept me going. But when compared to either a novel or a nonfictional account (and this one is somewhere between the two), it is structurally unedited.

Hmm, I can see that, but I enjoyed the structure -- maybe because I'm a pretty all over the place person though (not a good thing!).

I liked the suspense that would build by either the omitted moments, some of which would appear later on re: the reference and situation with The Terror, and how the book shifted from child-like writing and vision in the beginning to teenage vapidness and such to very adult writing and reflection.

There were definitely times I felt the narrative too jumpy -- large parts of her Vancouver life were omitted, I assume for length and focus -- but I would have enjoyed reading about the comparison between herself and her life in the two areas. There were brief moments, but still. Also, it does jump when she is not speaking directly of the resistance, for isntance the times she spent with her grandma, or waiting for the resistance. But, again i assume that was to keep editorial focus.

What got me about the diary-like style was the attention to recall and the amount of direct quotes. Was this from her diary?

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

haha, U I just read through your list. Your number 5 points made me giggle a bit! ("light blue. really. ok")

Left Turn Left Turn's picture

Even though I share some of the same reservations as Caissa and Unionist on Mami's judgement in bringing Carmen and Ale along when she and Bob join the resistance, I found these were beside the point. It happened, and it makes for compelling reading. Loved how carmen mixes the politics of the resistance with her sexual coming of age story.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Left Turn, I was hoping you would give us your insights because you were behind this choice! Thanks for coming too!

Do you have any specific reactions to U, Caissa and my opinions?

Left Turn Left Turn's picture

For me the whole story seems to climax in Chapter 18 when Carmen meets Alejandro and tells him her life story. I thought it was brilliant how she kept the story of her personal experience in Chile after the coup until this point in the book. Much more powerful than if she had opened with it.

Everything prior to chapter 18 seems to lead up to it, and everything after seems to lead away from it.

Left Turn Left Turn's picture

Kaitlin McNabb wrote:

Left Turn, I was hoping you would give us your insights because you were behind this choice! Thanks for coming too!

Do you have any specific reactions to U, Caissa and my opinions?

Hard to have enough time to read your posts and respond to them, and still have time to write my own thoughts in the hour. Unlike U, I didn't compose a long response ahead of time.

Unionist

The diva example:

Quote:
I grabbed a tabloid magazine and pretended to read about a popular television diva while we waited for our turn with the cashier.

My suggested editing appears above. If this were the only instance, who would even have noticed. But it is one of hundreds. Maybe more. It prevented me from taking some important episodes as seriously, on an emotional level, as I should have. But given that episodes passed at the speed of light, it was theoretically and practically difficult to see them anyway.

I kept getting an odd feeling - that I would have found the author endlessly fascinating had I met her, spoken to her, heard about her life, had the opportunity to delve into some of the important chapters and turning points... but reading her account didn't allow me to do that. Not just the questioning part - but understanding her personality, let alone those of so many other major and minor characters.

 

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Unionist wrote:

1. It didn't manage the balance well between a child's memoir (which most of it is) and an account of counter-revolution and resistance. There are factoids about political events in Chile, Bolivia, Argentina... But they never add up to a coherent account. Those who don't already know the story of 1973 and the era of reaction that it reflected and heralded, won't get that understanding from reading this book. That's not my criticism - because it's clearly not the book's aim - but given this observation, much of those factoids should I think have just been left out.

I would definitely fall into the category of people who don't already know the story in full and obviously read that book with that context. I feel like the epilogue addressed some of this as "this is her story" and similar to ... ahh... one of the books we read that i can't remember now ... the story is told completely from her angle, her opinions as she experienced them, mimicking how events were revealed to her.

I liked that style, with the bits and pieces being unveiled because I felt like I was reading with Carmen as she discovered these things about her and her countries.

 

3. The author turns 18 and consciously, dramatically, takes up the revolutionary cause, until death if need be. I have no real understanding of why she did so. It's not stated, and it's not conveyed (to me at least) in unstated fashion either. So... I'm left with the uncomfortable analogy: the child of a devout Catholic family (substitute any religion you like) becomes a priest/monk/nun upon coming of age, just because that's the way things are in that family. Maybe some of you saw more deeply what her motivations were? Let me know if you did, preferably with reference to some passages I may have missed or misunderstood.

I can't think of a direct quote now, but in the end she says two things that stood out for me:

1. the message to her mother thanks her (I won't write the whole thing here)

2. oh this was at the end of the book, but when she is talking and says "Your generations seems to understand that you don't have to let your beliefs consume you. You have yoru loves and your lives and your activism, an dyou don't let anybody dictate to you what you can do." I was like WHAT! Oh, okay. So, I thought it had been ingrained in her, much like you said, that activism is a way of life, not something we pick up on the side.

 

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Left Turn wrote:

Kaitlin McNabb wrote:

Left Turn, I was hoping you would give us your insights because you were behind this choice! Thanks for coming too!

Do you have any specific reactions to U, Caissa and my opinions?

Hard to have enough time to read your posts and respond to them, and still have time to write my own thoughts in the hour. Unlike U, I didn't compose a long response ahead of time.

Oh no problem!

I think U and I are needlessly fast typers too! The hour is short, but we also have time afterwards after we all digest, don't you worry!

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Left Turn wrote:

For me the whole story seems to climax in Chapter 18 when Carmen meets Alejandro and tells him her life story. I thought it was brilliant how she kept the story of her personal experience in Chile after the coup until this point in the book. Much more powerful than if she had opened with it.

Everything prior to chapter 18 seems to lead up to it, and everything after seems to lead away from it.

Yes. When she talks about the Terror, finally and her whole life.

Throughout the read, I was consumed with the fear that she would be capture, "was her mother tortured?" "Is Ale going to rat them out?" etc etc and almost couldn't believe none of that befell them.

Also, can we talk about Ale. I think of her more of a character in my mind as opposed to real life (I almost want her to write a memoir of her own to see tha difference in opinion) but her stance and everything where SO DIFFERENT!

Left Turn Left Turn's picture

I found there was a qualitative shift in the writing after chapter 18. Prior to Chapter 18, Carmen seems like she's mostly just along for the ride, even though she does really enjoy much of South America. And all of her sexual experiences prior to meeting Alejandro, everything from kissing to full on sex, is described as fresh and exciting, actual sexual encounters being referenced.

Once Carmen meets Alejandro, she develops her own purpose within the resistance, and from that point on it seems to become much less a sexual coming of age story and the politics take much more precedence. None of her sexual encounters with Alejandro or the basketball player boyfriend are explicitly referenced.

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