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Gringolandia by Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Gringolandia (edition 2009)

by Lyn Miller-Lachmann

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788154,388 (3.93)2
Authors:Lyn Miller-Lachmann
Info:Curbstone Press (2009), Hardcover, 250 pages
Collections:Your library, Read but unowned
Tags:young adult, South American history, Chile, POC, family, father-son relationships, alcoholism, political activism

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Gringolandia by Lyn Miller-Lachmann



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After visiting Chile and learning about the Pinochet regime at the Museum of Human Rights in Santiago, I was really interested to pick up this book, and sorry to put it down when I was done. Compelling, real and emotional, and an intense look at how power can destruct but conviction can overcome. A great read for those interested in this period of Chilean history and also for teens, that it will expand their perspectives on the world. ( )
  Salsabrarian | Feb 2, 2016 |
This book will fill you in on a part of history most Americans don't know about. It also makes you think about what is happening to people in other parts of the world today. ( )
  WarriorLibrary | Jan 27, 2011 |
Imagine waking up to soldiers in the middle of the night. Your father is dragged off and you don't know if you will ever see him again. A few years down the line, you have perfectly adjusted to a new life, when you find out your father is released from the prison he was placed in. If these things happen to you, chances are you are a character named Daniel in a book called Gringolandia.

Gringolandia takes place during the magical 80s. Turns out, 80s wasn't all great tv, movies and music. Actual things were happening in the world such as the Chilean revolution. What happened is the Chileans elected a socialist person to power. The US was like, no way bro, and totally killed the socialist and instituted a dictator in power. The Chileans were all, we don't like this! And people rebelled and fought for freedom. Daniel, who is the main character, has a freedom fighter father, who was TORTURED in jail. So his dad, understandably is messed up by that. Oh, and I forgot to mention, Daniel and his family now live in the United States.

I thought Gringolandia worked on several different levels. Characterization was tight. See, Daniel was layered. His dad is layered. OH and he has this girlfriend, Courtney, who sort of forced me to confront these ridiculous ideas I had. I'm not gonna lie, I thought Courtney was so annoying, because she was all trying to do annoying things like write a social justice newspaper and ask Daniel's dad these probing questions for her newspaper. Then she gets herself into these dangerous situations. But then I thought, self, would you be annoyed if she was a male? Or would you just think her very courageous? I like it when a book makes me consider my brainwaves.

As historical fiction, I thought Gringolandia was both absorbing and informative. I don't know much about the Chilean revolution except when Howard Zinn mentioned it in A People's History of the United States. I do think getting a teenager's perspective made the learning much more engaging. The teenager wasn't one of those fake ones either, you know, when the character seems contrived. I liked that the history was part of the story, but not the whole story.

The next layer which worked especially well was the family relationships. What I love here is just how complicated the relationships are. I don't know if I'm weird, but my relationship with my family is complicated. I love my family, but they do some very annoying things and I do very annoying things. Well, the way Daniel's father relates to his family is multilayered. On the one hand, he cares for his family. On the other, he is so messed up from being tortured, all he can think about is Chile and going back. Plus, he's dealing with all of these other problems. I won't go too in-depth, so as not to spoil.

In a nutshell, I found myself compelled during Gringolandia. ( )
  booksandwine | Sep 9, 2010 |
Gringolandia opens with an Author's Note explaining the very real circumstances and events in Chile that lead up to what is experienced by the fictional characters in the book. A short bibliography for further reading is also provided. Usually this kind of thing goes at the end of the story when readers are more likely to be interested in picking up 4-5 books on the topic. I thought it was a weird choice to put the note and bibliography at the beginning...until I started reading. Miller-Lachmann expects a lot of her readers, in a good way. She expects her readers to know what she's talking about without having to step away from the story to explain it, hence the need for the author's note preceeding the story.

Because, let's be honest, not many Americans know that much about Chile and certainly don't know that much about what it was like to live through the turbulent times Dan and his family live through. I don't read a lot of historical fiction about specific events, but much of the historical fiction published in the States of this type is about very well-known events. Even if the average American reader doesn't know the ins and outs of the actual event, they know the basics. Think about how much historical fiction is set during WWII or the French Revolution, or is about Anastasia Romanova. Gringolandia fills a huge gap. I can't think of any other historical fiction for teen readers about South America, let alone about Chile.

Even if there were tons of titles about political prisoners under Pinochet, I think that Gringolandia would still stand out. Without repeating events, this story is told from three distinctive points of view: Dan's, his father's, and his girlfriend's. Dan's father, Marcelo, talks about what it was like in prison (and believe me, even the polite version presented here can get graphic), but the strong point in his narrative is his passion for a free Chile. He doesn't regret the actions he took that led to his arrest; he desperately wants to continue that work, regardless of the consequences, now that he's been released. He's also going through some serious PTSD that is tearing his family apart. His perspective is contrasted with Dan's. Dan doesn't really know what his father did (you can't be questioned about what you don't know), and he doesn't understand how his father could put himself and his family at such great risk for a cause. He certainly can't understand why his father doesn't want to just move on and make the best of things. Like his father, Dan has trust issues and a serious flinch in the face of policemen, but without the conviction that helps his father work through these issues. Courtney, Dan's girlfriend, is all fired up about what happened to Marcelo and what is happening in Chile in general, but she is also woefully naive. Courtney breaks through to Marcelo when no one else can by believing whole-heartedly in what he believes in, guided by a simple sense of right and wrong and of fairness.

There is so much going on in this book along side of so much actually happening. I'm not going to lie, it's intense and not always easy to read. But it is so worth it! Not only will the reader learn about events not often discussed in American history classes, but they'll also get to know some ridiculously complex characters and watch them make impossible choices for themselves and the greater good.

Book source: Philly Free Library ( )
  lawral | Jul 31, 2010 |
This is a terrific YA novel that is set against the backdrop of the Pinochet dictatorship that ruled from 1973 until 1990 in Chile.

The story begins in 1980 in Santiago, when 11-year-old Daniel witnesses his father Marcelo’s beating and arrest for his anti-regime activities. Marcelo's prison time is harrowing, and he may not have survived but for the fact that his family - now in Madison, Wisconsin - has been successful in exerting pressure to get him released after six hard years in captivity. We next encounter Daniel at age 17, when he goes with his mom to pick up his father at the airport. They hardly recognize the man who limps toward them from the plane.

The remainder of the book focuses on the readjustment of the family - now “Americanized” - to a very much changed Marcelo, and Marcelo's readjustment to a life free of torture, but not free of pain. Although Daniel’s father is not yet 40, he looks at least 50, is partially paralyzed, has crippling nightmares, and tries to blot out his terrifying memories through drinking.

Daniel, his younger sister Tina, and his mother Vicky have lived in hope for six years for the return of a father and a husband. They are not prepared for the damaged man that returns to them. They struggle with balancing their own needs for attention against Marcelo’s needs arising from his disablements and stress. Further, Marcelo feels he owes it to his still-imprisoned comrades to help get them released. It does not seem right to him to relax in "Gringolandia" while his friends and country still suffer. But can he overcome his own disablement? Daniel’s “gringa” girlfriend, Courtney, thinks she can be the one to help save “Papa.” But the whole family needs saving as well.

Discussion: I am elated to find such a good book that is also instructional and informative, and that will familiarize readers both with international events and with the fact that the U.S. - generally through the C.I.A. - sometimes plays a clandestine role in manipulating them. Both the motives and consequences of this manipulation are not always positive. This book brings the actions of governments down to the personal level in a visceral and heart-rending way, but also shows that individual action can and does make a difference. Awareness is the first step towards change.

Because I don’t know how many readers may get to this book, I am including an excerpt from the “Author’s Note” that precedes the story about the real events that inspired it. (And I would also add here that I think it’s a great idea, in any historical fiction, for authors to set forth the actual historical background, and to distinguish fact from fiction at the outset.)

"Author’s Note:

In September 1970, the Chilean people elected as president the socialist physician and politician Salvador Allende. Allende moved to nationalize (place under state ownership) key industries and to redistribute the country’s wealth in a more equitable manner. His actions provoked the United States government, which feared the rise of another Communist nation in the Americas. After a three-year destabilization effort, the United States, through the Central Intelligence Agency, backed a military coup led by Chilean Army commander General Augusto Pinochet.

The coup, which took place on September 11, 1973, led to the deaths of Allende and approximately 3,000 of his supporters, the imprisonment and torture of more than 30,000 others, and the exile or emigration of nearly a tenth of the country’s population. The coup ended Chile’s long history of stable democracy and rule of law – a source of pride for this South American nation – and ushered in seventeen years of violent repression. The Pinochet regime reversed not only Allende’s policies but also earlier decades of social reforms, leaving the economy in the hands of free market policies that brought economic growth along with increasing misery for the poor. Today, Chile has one of the most unequal distributions of wealth in the Western Hemisphere.”

Evaluation: The story brings up so many issues for discussion even aside from those relating to political events. What happens when a parent changes, and when the relationship between parents changes? What happens when your own relationships go through changes? When is violence an appropriate response and when does it make things worse? What is the difference between courage and foolishness? What are the limits of love? I very highly recommend this book. And if you are to have a discussion of it, or just want more background, the author has a very helpful Teacher's Guide on her website. ( )
  nbmars | Jun 9, 2010 |
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In 1986, when seventeen-year-old Daniel's father arrives in Madison, Wisconsin, after five years of torture as a political prisoner in Chile, Daniel and his eighteen-year-old "gringa" girlfriend, Courtney, use different methods to help this bitter, self-destructive stranger who yearns to return home and continue his work.… (more)

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