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

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Unionist

Left Turn wrote:

 Unlike U, I didn't compose a long response ahead of time.

Heehee. I took notes of those odd details, but didn't prepare any response ahead of time. I just talk a loooooot.

And I type fast, as K. points out.

Had I actually prepared a response, it might have made some sense. Innocent

Left Turn Left Turn's picture

I found some parts of the book emotionally very difficult, expecially the part in Argentina where Mami and Bob are neglecting Carmen and Ale, and Mami's near death experience.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

I am all over the place right now and I apologize, but I also wanted to talk about or merely reference the great irony of living a life of resistance by having to fit in with the oppressors.

That was such a crazy theme that ran all through the book!

The idea of the "actual resistance work" being done had to take place under the cover of being capitalist, etc, while the "other" work -- reference in this case in Vancouver -- was done vocally, out in the open, and who knows what effect that actually had?

It blew my mind to the point that I questioned "at what point does pretending actually become your life?"

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Left Turn wrote:

I found some parts of the book emotionally very difficult, expecially the part in Argentina where Mami and Bob are neglecting Carmen and Ale, and Mami's near death experience.

When Carmen had her suicide attempt and screams "I want to go home, I want to go home" that was ... devstating. And then accompanied by the shame her mother placed upon her.

There was a sheer disconnect for me, but again, difference in experiences riight?

I felt that confusion she had though at what does "home" mean. Chile, Bolivia, Canada? Even though this is non-fiction, this would have been an integral part to a fiction story as well -- the question of what is home...

But I agree LT, I found myself emotionally involved in the book. Maybe not as much as other books I have read (Joan Didion books spring to mind, but that's hardly a fair comparison), but I felt that connection.

Left Turn Left Turn's picture

One other big thing that struck me is that Carmen and Alejandro  are a great example of how a relationship between two people who appear to be political soulmates can fail. I've seen this in real life with several couples I've done political work with. That when a couple is involved in stressful political work together, the relationship takes on all that stress, and it kills it. Having similar political beliefs and being able to talk about them in a relationship isn't the problem, it's the mutual political organizing. The more that becomes part of a relationship between political soul-mates, the more likely the relationship is going to flame out.

Left Turn Left Turn's picture

Kaitlin McNabb wrote:

Left Turn wrote:

I found some parts of the book emotionally very difficult, expecially the part in Argentina where Mami and Bob are neglecting Carmen and Ale, and Mami's near death experience.

When Carmen had her suicide attempt and screams "I want to go home, I want to go home" that was ... devstating. And then accompanied by the shame her mother placed upon her.

There was a sheer disconnect for me, but again, difference in experiences riight?

I felt that confusion she had though at what does "home" mean. Chile, Bolivia, Canada? Even though this is non-fiction, this would have been an integral part to a fiction story as well -- the question of what is home...

But I agree LT, I found myself emotionally involved in the book. Maybe not as much as other books I have read (Joan Didion books spring to mind, but that's hardly a fair comparison), but I felt that connection.

Yeah, it's non-fiction, but Carmen manages to make it read a lot like fiction.

I found myself more emotionally involved in this book than almost any other I've read, because these are real experiences that actually happened. I was literally in tears reading that passage.

 

Left Turn Left Turn's picture

It only became aparent after they were in Argentina that Mami and Bob's relationship was going to fail. Carmen and Alejandro on the other hand I could tell by the time they went back to Argentina that their relationship was going to fail. It didn't feel like a real relationship from that point onwards, as though they had become just friends even though they were still in a relationship. And even before that Carmen never really described it as a real relationship. They seemed like a couple who started out with such an inense emotional connection that their relationship had nowehre to go but down.

Unionist

Ok, here's my dilemma. I kind of agree with the substance of what Kaitlin and LT are saying. And I found passages here and there very moving, and I've already said what I think about her competence with respect to prose. But at a certain point, my subjective responses just weren't the same. I didn't like the speed, and the descriptive style often left me gasping for breath.

Here's another example:

Quote:
Alejandro had taken his oath in an unfaltering voice. My admiration for his courage grew daily. I was gripped by fear: of torture, of a hideous death, of betraying my comrades. I worried that my political convictions weren’t strong enough for me to keep my commitment, even to a cause I believed in so deeply. My politics and my personal life had always been enmeshed, but they’d also been at odds with each other. I kept these fears to myself, though, trying outwardly to match Alejandro’s bravery. As of this day in May 1986, we were both revolutionaries in our own right.

I just can't fathom how someone can write this way about themselves. If politics and personal life were "enmeshed" (whatever that means), I want to feel that emerge from her account of life experience. Then, I either won't need the "summary", or else it will ring false if it's not accurate. A biographer or historian or journalist can say those things about someone else. But not oneself, and not in a "memoir" which purports to describe life events, dialogues - a demi-novel in fact.

Likewise with statements like, "a cause I believed in so deeply". I think, if accurate, that that should be the reader's conclusion. Not the writer's.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

LT, I flagged a passage describing when the family is in Argentina and Bob says "You poor little rich girls can't get used to living on the wrong side of the tracks? Your bourgeois tastes can't fathom this dirt road with these ignorant German fascists?" because I thought it so perfectly encapsulated Carmen's struggle at 18.

Her "parents" were becoming fractured from the poliitical stress you spoke of, she has been living a confusing life of being "underground" and appearing "mainstream" and at what points does a person become who they will be.

It seems her sister potentially let some of those bourgeois lifestyle notes affect her life and what she wanted, yet Carmen tried to fight this upbringing.

Her parents made fun of her, yet made her live in this life...

Left Turn Left Turn's picture

The ending was bittersweet for me. My reaction to the ending was similar to my reaction when I saw the last episode of The Wonder Years tv show where we find out that Kevin and Winne wind up just being friends as adults, and that Kevin's dad dies two years later. That same idea of leaving everything from childhood behind and pursuing a different life in adulthood with completely different people seemed present at the end of this book.

Left Turn Left Turn's picture

Unionist wrote:
I didn't like the speed, and the descriptive style often left me gasping for breath.

The only time Carmen's descriptive style was an issue for me was when the family first moves to Argentina. Carmen mentions the name of the town, but doesn't mention that it's in Argentina. I had to Google it to see if it was in Argentina or Peru.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Unionist wrote:

Likewise with statements like, "a cause I believed in so deeply". I think, if accurate, that that should be the reader's conclusion. Not the writer's.

(I erased most of what you said U, just so my response will appear shorter Smile)

I'm coming to your understanding and your position. Not saying we all need to be on the same side, but I just wanted to be able to understand where we're all coming from!

I agree with some points you made -- but I never questioned her commitment to the cause, and felt I did come to that conclusion and she also happened to restate it.

I think if anything made me question it, it was the ending, when things just ended. Perhaps just a complete reflection of what happened to her I assuming, where all of a sudden her life of constant fear, and waiting and activism, was just, we're done. we failed. move on.

I think I read this 'memoir' more as, like LT kind of said, like it was fiction, a play etc (which would make sense, since she's a playwright). I had to remind myself that it was real.

The realness added a validity, but it never took away from the prose. It was definitely a new sub-genre of political memoir.

Caissa

I agree with what Unionist has written. I felt completely detached reading the story, felt it flitted all over the place, seldom provided significance. I couldn't feel any empathy.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Oh, btw, we did a book lounge review of this too: http://rabble.ca/books/reviews/2011/09/remembering-chiles-911

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Stepping in to say it is three so the real time official conversation had ended, but of course we can continue on in less real time fashion.

Thanks everyone for reading, writing and sharing. What a lovely little book club!

On a personal note, I would like to revisit some of the questions and comments just posted here, but I have to get back to work, like the chump that I am! Wink

Once again, let's take the weekend to decide our next selection and revisit this Monday and get everything hashed out, short timelines and all!

Thanks again!

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

OH!

And I will be sending questions to Carmen Aguirre next week 

There is a lot of food for thought on this thread I can fashion into some questions, but please feel free to drop any specific questions we may not have gotten to here and I will try to incorporate them

Thanks all, I'm out for a bit!

Caissa

I would rather that no questions are framed out of my comments, if that is possible.

Left Turn Left Turn's picture

Kaitlin McNabb wrote:

OH!

And I will be sending questions to Carmen Aguirre next week 

There is a lot of food for thought on this thread I can fashion into some questions, but please feel free to drop any specific questions we may not have gotten to here and I will try to incorporate them.

My question for Carmen Aguirre is: To what extent did your experiences growing up as part of the resistance (first as a child and teen along for the ride, and later as an actual member of the resistance) inform the choices you've made as an adult? And more specifically, to what extent did your relationship with Alejandro inform your subsequent relationships and what you wanted from subsequent relationships?

Left Turn Left Turn's picture

Kaitlin McNabb wrote:
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.

I've noticed in my own generation (I'm 33 btw) that a lot of my activist friends initially took it up as more of a lifestyle than just as something on the side. In many cases getting into relationships that were wound up with their activism, which ultimately failed because of that. I've seen many people burn out and drop out of activism entirely once the hard-core variety of it gets to them, but I also know other people who've managed to find that balance between activism and other parts of their lives.

I recently spent almost four months pursing a woman who I knew through mutual activism who'd broken up with her previous boyfriend (their relationship was wound up with said activism). After I finally got her out on what I thought was a date, she tells me that it's not and that she doesn't date her friends (even though her former boyfriend seemed like he was also her best friend back when I knew them as a couple). She seems to now want to have a relationship that has nothing to do with her activism. This even though I'd made a concerted effort to have non-political discussions with her while pursuing her; and persued her in part because she seemed interested in discussing things other than politics while still being someone I could discuss politics with.

So I can definitely see how Carmen could go from being in a relationship with a political soul-mate like Alejandro, to dating an apolitical basketball player with centrist politics where the relationship is all about wining and dining, dancing, and sex. And can also see how, when the resistance ended, that Carmen was able to abandon that life and move on with an adult life in a different direction.

Michael Scott

So.  I'm late.  I haven't finished the book yet (I'm just starting chapter 24).  Buy hey!  I'm new so bare with me!

I actually feel lucky, unlike you suckers!, 'cause I get to continue reading this viciously engaging, informative, hilarious, heart-breaking, wonderful book!

Some parts I really enjoyed were as follows:

Where her uncle Boris said he'd like to shit in a Unicef box because "charity was vertical, keeping the relationship between the haves and have-nots intact.  we believed in revolution."  This was classic example of speaking to her families revolutionary politics in an accessible and comical way!

Then there was the conflict with Bob and the "big city guy" on the bus, where he mom said "Roll up your sleeves and get ready to fight these racist, social climbing songs of bitches, Carmencita," after the big city guy called Bob a pretentious hippy there to help lazy indians.  Carmen  Fist fighting was as foreign as a game of cricket.  The daughter was bigger than me, and I'd probably get creamed.   Hahaha!  What an engaging story, mixed with both politics and humour!

The way her love for Bolivia is so palpable.  "there was no way you could live in a crater, closer to the sky than anyone else, in the heart of South America, in the continent's poorest country, and not know about life."  Beauty!

Random moving poetry.  "I shall die in Paris, in a rainstorm.  On a day I already remember."  

Context providing political quotes " Foreing capital, imperialism, together with the reactionary right, cerated the climate in which the armed forces broke their traditions...I addres the youth, those who sang and gave us their joy and thir spirit of struggle.  I address the worker, the farmer, the intellectual, those who will be persecuted, because in our country fascism has already been present for many hours...History will judge them." - Allende's final words.  

The inherent struggle of being raised and revolutionary and how difficult this must be.  This is definitely one the most fascinating themes of the book for me.  I could hardly imagine, so I really appreciated her depiction!  "I am deeply hurt and dissapointed by the letter I received from you.  How do you think a mother feels when her daughter tells her that she would rather live with her grandparents?"  Carmen writes: At their [her grandparents] house, we weren't expected to be brave and mauture and revolutionary.  We could just be kids.

I too found her jumping back and forth from South America to Vancouver kind of challenging to follow at times; however, she definitely made up for it with humour.  Like the time she was doing solidarity buttons/ awareness at her school and her classmate was like "what the fuck is that?"  "it's a revolutionary guerilla organization fighting for justice and bread in El Salvador."  "No fucking way, man! Gorillas are taking over?  Get the fuck outta here!  ... It's like Planet of the Apes, man!"

I could go on, but I won't now.  I loved the book.  Aguirre has given us a true gift here.  Thank you for choosing this book.  I am going to highly recommend it to many friends, even ones not overtly radical or political, as I feel it is fun and accessable for any reader.

 

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Hi Michael, great comments!

I'm about 20% through the book because I accidentally left it home when I was in Quebec City last week. But my partner (a one time babble-poster E_B_K who has joined the book club) is just about done. She likes the book and maybe she'll be by later to give some comments.

Unionist

Good god almighty. I was kicked off the internet at about 3 pm and service just came back now! We've had huge windstorms in QC and 350,000 hydro customers were blacked out as of 7 pm tonight. Our internet generally survives a bit longer than the electricity - in this case about 1/2 hour.

And I had saved my most brilliant comments for then!

I'll get back to this after we've inspected the damage. Sorry folks!

 

Left Turn Left Turn's picture

Hi Michael Scott. Welcome to Babble. Glad you enjoyed the book.

Michael Scott wrote:
Where her uncle Boris said he'd like to shit in a Unicef box because "charity was vertical, keeping the relationship between the haves and have-nots intact.  we believed in revolution."  This was classic example of speaking to her families revolutionary politics in an accessible and comical way!

That's a great reference to the following Eduardo Galeano quote:

"I don't believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is vertical, so it's humiliating. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other and learns from the other. I have a lot to learn from other people."

I came across this quote years ago on my friend Andrea P.'s facebook profile. Andrea is Chilean btw.

Michael Scott wrote:
The way her love for Bolivia is so palpable.  "there was no way you could live in a crater, closer to the sky than anyone else, in the heart of South America, in the continent's poorest country, and not know about life."  Beauty!

Carmen very definitely loved Bolivia, and was heartbroken when her family had to move away from there. She hadn't even wanted to go back to Vancouver to live with her Papi, as she and Ale had to do for a portion of the time while Mami and Bob were in Bolivia.

Michael Scott wrote:
Context providing political quotes " Foreing capital, imperialism, together with the reactionary right, cerated the climate in which the armed forces broke their traditions...I addres the youth, those who sang and gave us their joy and thir spirit of struggle.  I address the worker, the farmer, the intellectual, those who will be persecuted, because in our country fascism has already been present for many hours...History will judge them." - Allende's final words. 

This is another one of my favourite political quotes, from one of my favourite politicians of all time. Allende Vive!

Michael Scott wrote:
I too found her jumping back and forth from South America to Vancouver kind of challenging to follow at times;

I found it fairly straightforwards to follow. I could always tell where Carmen was at any given time. There was the odd flashback to Vancouver, but these were brief and I could always tell where Carmen was in the "present" point in the story.

Here's what I understand as the basic outline of Carmen's travels throughout the book:

LAX --> Peru --> Bolivia --> Chile --> Bolivia --> Vancouver --> Bolivia --> Brazil --> Argentina --> Vancouver --> Peru --> Bolivia --> Argentina/Chile --> Vancouver

For the purposes of the Diagram, I left out cities except Vancouver. I omitted the brief Vacation to Brazil, and the brief trip to Edmonton for the Revolutionary Youth conference. I combined all the trips back and forth between Argentina and Chile into Argentins/Chile as a catchall. And I ommitted the final trip to Buenos Aires from the epilogue.

 

Left Turn Left Turn's picture

I really enjoyed this book. Carmen is a wonderful writer. Though she tackles some very dark subject matter, I found the writing very accessible and engaging.

 

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Hiiii, I have yet to read the last view comments, but saw Michael Scott joined the conversation -- thanks and welcome!

I will be sending the questions to Carmen's people on Thursday, so lots of time. And, yes Caissa -np.

I wanted to have the new selection by today, but that's obviously not happening on my behalf!

Check in tomorrow and get this puppy ready for the next one!

Unionist

Just re-read this thread. Fascinating.

I wonder whether the author ever replied to Kaitlin's questions??

What made me think of returning here was this - Carmen Aguirre has published a kind of sequel (TRIGGER WARNING, SEXUAL ASSAULT ISSUES):

[url=http://montrealgazette.com/entertainment/books/beyond-something-fierce-c... Something Fierce: Carmen Aguirre, child victim of the paper bag rapist, holds nothing back in her haunting memoir[/url]

 

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Hey Unionist and all! I'll take another look through my email to see about those answers. I remember we were trying to set up an interview, but she was very (understanably) busy at that time and we were having trouble setting a date.

If I find 'em I'll be sure to post.

Unionist

Thanks, Kaitlin!

I wasn't crazy about her first book, but will take a chance on the new one - and still curious as to what (if anything) she had to say in reply to our questions/comments.

 

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