Last month I recieved Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s Gringolandia as a prize in MotherReader’s 48-Hour Reading Challenge. This provocative new young adult novel is not the type of book I would necessarily pick up on my own, but I’m glad I read it.

When Daniel’s father is imprisoned in 1980s Chile for a newspaper publishing government crimes, he, his mother, and his sister Tina must move to the US and start a new life. Marcelo Aguilar is released early six years later but returns to them a broken man, battered physically and mentally from torture. Daniel must try to reconcile his image of his father as a hero with this alcoholic who dreams of returning to Chile, as well as deal with his own guilt. Meanwhile his girlfriend Courtney, passionate about writing and social justice, wants to share Mr. Aguilar’s story with the world.

Miller-Lachman doesn’t shy away from tackling many serious issues in this book. She raises questions such as what the responsibility of an individual witnessing injustice is, and whether fighting it is worth the cost to one’s self and family. In addition, she doesn’t gloss over the physical and mental torture and its side effects. The novel is at the same time a politcal exposé, a moral dilemna, and a coming of age story, as Dan must come to terms with his father and his own identity. I did find Courtney’s character somewhat forced though, especially as one section of the story was told from her perspective.

I know very little about South American politics, but a brief author’s note at the beginning outlined the basic details of General Pinochet’s regime. I was still shocked at both the horrors themselves and their aftermath. The cover image itself is a photo of a pool used for submersion at a torture center in Santiago, now part of a park for human rights. At one point in the novel Mr. Aguilar speaks at Boston College as part of a national tour. I had to ask myself: would I have gone to such a talk, or would I have been too busy with other activities and schoolwork? I’m afraid the answer is probably the latter.

I would recommend this book only for older teenagers, as in addition to the torture scenes there is also sex, drugs, and drinking. However, it’s a good way to become knowlegable about important events, as in my experience schools do little to cover recent history. This is especially true in that world history usually stops around the Middle Ages, whereas US and European history are taken up to at least the 1970s. I was always rather indifferent about this issue, but I’m increasingly realizing that despite a good education I know much about centuries past and little about the regions and events that will dictate tomorrows history books. Perhaps fiction is the first step towards filling the gaps, and if so more writers should be unafraid to grapple with troubling issues.

Published in: on July 19, 2009 at 11:07 am  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for the review and the support. I’m glad you won the novel in the contest and you made the effort to read it. Even if you might not have gone to the talk (and I admit I missed a few of the ones I should have gone to myself), you put even more time into reading this novel and spreading the word.

    By the way, the event that inspired my writing of the scene at Boston College was a talk I attended several years ago at Albany Medical Center, given by a survivor of prison and torture in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). It was a powerful experience that drove home the fact to me that while democracy may have returned to Chile there are other places in the world where the struggle for basic human rights continues.

    For those considering using Gringolandia in classes, I have a teacher’s guide on my web site:

    Thank you again.


  2. Lyn, thanks for stopping by, and for writing such an eye-opening book!

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