Gringolandia by Lyn Miller-Lachmann
A REview is when I re-review a book. I will usually do this for books I reviewed awhile ago. This is part of my blogoversary/blogaversary activities. My original review
IQ "I'm what Pinochet fears most. I got involved because I couldn't not do it. I was raised with this sense of justice, of right and wrong. It's in my blood." Papa pg. 184
Daniel Aguilar's father, Marcelo, used to be fun. He danced, played soccer, drove his taxi and was a loving father to his kids. He also published an underground newspaper that exposed the dirty tactics of Chile's military government, lead by dictator Augusto Pinochet. Marcelo is arrested and Daniel flees with his mother and sister Tina to Wisconsin. Six years later, Daniel is happy with his life, he stays away from politics, he's in a band and he has a gringa girlfriend. His father is released from prison and joins his family in Wisconsin. Daniel barely recognizes his father, Marcelo is so changed by torture. Marcelo is partially paralyzed, haunted by flashbacks, bitter and an alcoholic. He hates Wisconsin and American, calling it "Gringolandia." Daniel wants to rebuild his relationship with his father but this may be prevented by his well intentioned but meddlesome girlfriend and his father's anger.
I love that this novel deals with the aftereffects of torture, not just on the victim, but on the victim's family. Daniel's father is hurt and he's determined to hurt those that he's loved. He's rude and spiteful to his wife, Daniel and Tina. I love Tina and I'm excited for the sequel told from her point of view. She's smart but there's definitely a lot more to her. She's twelve and barely remembers her father. She doesn't know what to make of her father in this changed state and she spends most of her time avoiding him. All the characters in the family have depth, there's more to them than their initial actions and there is a sense of satisfaction as the readers slowly learn more about the characters. I was also able to better appreciate the tidbits about South Americans. The Spanish people speak in Chile is different from the Spanish people speak in Central America. Also Daniel mentions that with his green eyes and brownish red hair, he looks different from the stereotype of Latino people (black hair, brown eyes), I appreciated that this is mentioned. South American culture is very different from Central American culture and that is not ignored.
I've always liked Daniel, but on this rereading I felt that Courtney was a little more understandable. I still don't like her, she doesn't really grow as a character, but I was able to better appreciate her good intentions, even if they were misguided. She is strong and fearless, but also incredibly naive. She's not hopeless though and I have no doubt that she will change for the better in college (although according to the author she's not in the sequel). The chemistry between Courtney and Daniel wasn't the greatest, but they had cute moments. I was glad the novel focused less on their romantic relationship and more on Courtney's social justice crusader attitude versus Daniel's more passive, I-just-want-my-life-to-go-back-to-normal attitude.
Gringolandia is a moving tale about a time and place that Americans know little about, Chile in the 1980s. The author does a great job of giving you an idea of what Chile was like during this time, the good and the bad. You may start off hating Daniel's father and how he treats his family or you may excuse it all together. The author skillfully shows that the situation is much more complex than that, you can't flat out hate or feel pity for Marcelo (and he definitely wouldn't want your pity). This trip to Chile is not particularly enjoyable, it's dark time in Chilean history but Daniel's family is wonderfully complex and there are some lighthearted moments. The novel is intense, but not absolutely horrific and you will be the better for reading it. The cover is not particularly striking, you have to read till the end of the book to understand it's significance and even then you have to really look at the cover to get it.
I'm looking forward to reading the sequel, My Life Divided, which is told from Tina's point of view. My interview with the author
Disclosure: Received from the author (it's signed!) Thank you so very much Lyn!