GringolandiaGringolandia by Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Curbstone Books (now Northwestern University Press), 2009. 288 pages. Recommended for ages 14 and older. ISBN: 9781931896498.

In 1973, with the help of the CIA, a democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, was overthrown and a military junta led by Augusto Pinochet took his place. The junta was responsible for violent repression of dissent. Many people were tortured. Many people were killed. Many people simply disappeared.

In the book, Daniel’s father, Marcelo, was an active dissenter. The book starts in 1980 when the military comes to Daniel’s house in the middle of the night, brutally beats and then arrests his father.

Daniel’s mother and his younger sister leave Chile to live in Wisconsin. In 1986, after six years of torture, Marcelo is released from prison and ordered to leave Chile and never return. Daniel and his mother pick Marcelo up from the airport in Chicago. He is nothing like the man Daniel remembers as his father.

Daniel has become comfortable with the United States. He wants to become a US citizen. Marcelo calls it “Gringolandia.” Marcelo suffers from terrible headaches, from nightmares, from strong reactions when he is touched. He wants to write again, as he wrote before he went to prison. Daniel’s girlfriend is able to help Marcelo publicize the plight of Chileans.

This is a book about the horrors the Chilean government, or any government, can commit when it is not beholden to an electorate. It’s a book about the results of those horrors as demonstrated by Marcelo and the affect Marcelo has on his family.

It’s also a book about a young man and his father. Daniel wants his father to be the way he was when Daniel was young. Marcelo wants Daniel to be a Chilean.

The book is told in three voices, Daniel, Marcelo and Daniels girlfriend Courtney. Miller-Lachmann has solid control over all three voices. The pace of the story is constant. There’s an author’s note at the beginning which talks about the history of Chile in the 70s and 80s. I find it very helpful for the authors note appears at the beginning of the book rather than at the end.

One of my favorite singers from the time when Pinochet ran Chile, Tom Paxton, wrote a song called “The White Bones of Allende.” Another singer, Holly Near, wrote “Hay Una Mujer Desaparecida.”

This is an important story. It’s important that we vote in this country, that we keep our democracy so that nothing like what happened in Chile will ever happen here.

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17 thoughts on “Gringolandia

  1. Great review, Liz. Naomi Klein documented the rise of disaster capitalism aka the shock doctrine aka austerity as starting in Pinochet-era Chile. We have the Chicago School of Economics and its guru Milton Friedman to thank for the ideology of “planned misery” that austerity has unleashed. In Greece, junta law prohibits public gatherings of two or more, another relic of Pinochet. Thus, the origin of the cacerolazo or casserole protest.

    • When I was in Chile in 1990, the people I lived with described themselves as the subjects of a mass experiment against their will, like lab rats. When I read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, it reinforced everything my friends were saying at the time.

    • Thanks for your kind words, Jeff. Thanks also for tracing forward the effect of the economic policies under Pinochet. I’m shocked about what’s happening with public gatherings in Greece. It reminds me of Italy under Mussolini.

  2. Thank you for the thoughtful review, Liz! For readers, an important takeaway is your line “This is a book about the horrors the Chilean government, or any government, can commit when it is not beholden to an electorate.” Although the 17-year struggle of the Chilean people ended in a peaceful transition to democracy, that struggle shows that once freedom is lost, it is very difficult to get back.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words, Lyn, and thanks for commenting on the review. What a thrill to have you, the author of the reviewed book, participate in comments on the book! Thank you!

  3. Great review! I couldn’t agree more with your last sentences–“It’s an important story.” One I hope that teachers will include in their classroom content. I’m so glad to have found your blog! I

  4. I have known chilean ex-pats and heard their stories, but been paralyzed by grief. I love how some people can write when all i can do is cry.

    • I agree it’s pretty amazing that some people can write about such horrors. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog. I took a look at yours and it looks very gentle and kind. I’m looking forward to reading more of it.

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