Carmen Aguirre on The Next Chapter

Every year, the Canada Reads authors sit down with The Next Chapter host Shelagh Rogers to discuss their life, writing and what it's like to have their book up for national debate. We will share all the interviews on the Canada Reads website. 

This week, we bring you Shelagh's conversation with Something Fierce author Carmen Aguirre. This interview originally aired on the December 12, 2011, episode of The Next Chapter.

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Carmen Aguirre has lived two distinct lives. In her current life, she's an established actor and playwright in Vancouver. Her last production, The Refugee Hotel, was nominated for a Dora Award in 2010. But as a youth, Carmen lived a harrowing existence filled with danger and fear as a revolutionary in South America. She chronicles this life in her book, Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter.

When Carmen was five years old, her family fled Chile as political refugees and started to build a new life in Vancouver. But when Carmen was 11, they decided to return and contribute to the cause. Her parents became revolutionaries, fighting against Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship in Chile in the 1980s. As a young girl, Carmen was asked to keep secrets and was moved from house to house, city to city and country to country, often without warning or explanation. However, none of that deterred her. She loved her country and wanted to fight for it.

Carmen was nervous about putting her personal story in the public eye, and for good reason. First, she feared for her safety. As it is, the book gives only vague details of the revolutionary movement and Carmen's participation in it. "I never mentioned the name of the movement. I mention 'goods and items' quite a bit," she explained to Shelagh Rogers.

Second, she wanted the book to read as a narrative, and to capture a larger audience. She didn't write this book as therapy. She didn't publish her journals for the world to read. "As much as it's a very personal story, it's also not," Carmen said. It was important to Carmen that her story be relatable for readers everywhere. "The big theme I was working on throughout the book was commitment clashing with desire," she said. "I think everybody can relate to [that]."

Finally, Carmen wanted to give the revolution she participated in a voice. Very little has been written about the Chilean revolution in English literature. Carmen believes this is because they lost, but she also believes that it's still an important part of history and is a story that needs to be told. Ordinary people were giving up everything they knew and were sacrificing their safety for a greater good. A lot of literature about revolutions doesn't reflect that, and Carmen wants to change that. "[Something Fierce] is not about heroism or martyrdom," she said. "It's just an everyday account of a pretty ordinary person in an extraordinary situation."

But why would Carmen do this? Why would she go along with her parents' wishes, and then actively choose to become a revolutionary herself, potentially putting her life in danger? For Carmen, the answer was simple.

"This is all for a larger cause. This has nothing to do with me," she said. "I would look around and say 'half the people in this country, Chile, are in dire straits. I have food in my stomach. Really, I'm okay.'"

Shad will defend Something Fierce in the Canada Reads 2012 debates. The debates will air at 11 a.m. (11:30 a.m. in Nfld.) on CBC Radio One and will be livestreamed on CBC Books at 10 a.m. ET on February 6,7, 8 and 9.

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