GRINGOLANDIA is about Daniel Aguilar who, as a young boy, witnesses his father's capture by the forces of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile in 1980. The story begins with a tense, gripping scene where young Daniel has to bear silent witness to a nightmare and, as all children do when faced with traumatic situations where they are completely powerless, Daniel blames himself for his father's capture -- believing it was his inability to stay silent that finally gave away his father's whereabouts.
The novel portrays, with brutal honesty, how torture affects not just the person forced to endure it, but the entire family system, with a resounding impact. When Daniel's father, Marcelo, returns home five-and-a-half years later, after his release from prison, the whole family begins a journey of healing, discovery, forgiveness, and conscious awareness. Daniel is now a teenager with a very American life--not at all the little boy his father last saw. And Marcelo is not at all the father Daniel remembers.
The relationships in this book were deftly handled, and Miller-Lachman seamlessly threaded the connections between the personal and political. Political trauma always leaves personal wounds and the victims most affected are often those with the least power. I love that the author didn't shy away from the tough scenes, and I also love that Daniel was a regular guy trying to live a regular, teen life. He had a band, a girlfriend (a fierce, activist girlfriend, no less), and his desires and angst were just so believably teen.
Marcelo, as a character, was richly drawn, with depth and resonance--I've never known survivors of torture, but I saw my own father in Marcelo many times. I saw my uncles and so many of the men I've known throughout my life who have made similar, hobbling journeys back to their children. I saw the cultural rift between generations that hits so close to home for me as an immigrant whose first language is not English. And the doubts, insecurities, and anguish that come with being children of broken fathers were skillfully woven into the characters' interactions and throughout the dialogue.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning about a chapter of Chilean history we don't hear much about, to anyone who is interested in the bonds and fissures of familial relationships, and anyone who wants to read an engaging, absorbing book with strong, believable characters. GRINGOLANDIA is a novel about roots and wings, belonging and family, home and love, and, ultimately, hope.
I would also highly recommend the Teacher's Guide to Gringolandia that Lyn has on her site. I learned more from reading that guide than I've ever known about Chilean history and the U.S.-backed coup to topple the Allende regime. Fascinating stuff.
GRINGOLANDIA is available for purchase here, and you can find more information about Lyn and her work on her website.