The Next Chapter

Why you should read Sonja Larsen's Red Star Tattoo

In her memoir, Sonja Larsen recounts her life as a flower child and her time living in a commune. Columnist Antanas Sileika shares his thoughts.
In her memoir Red Star Tattoo: My Life as a Girl Revolutionary, Sonja Larsen recounts her life as a flower child and her time living in a commune. (CBC)

After the social shifts of the 1960s, some flower children chose to continue the revolution by living in communes. Sonja Larsen's family lived in communes when she was a child; she has written about that and the fallout of radical politics in her life in her book Red Star Tattoo: My Life as a Girl Revolutionary, which was a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction

Here's what The Next Chapter columnist Antanas Sileika had to say about this memoir.

On the author's unconventional upbringing

There is something nightmarish about Larsen's childhood and her youth. It's quite amazing that she came through it as well as she did. [Her parents] were restless people. They lived for a while in Hawaii, they then moved to Montreal and into a commune. The thing about this commune is that children are permitted to do pretty much anything they want. Children are given choices from the very youngest of ages. They end up in a commune in California. It sounds like a commune run by children. They try to farm, but they don't know how to farm, nothing really grows. They don't know how to run the machinery, it breaks down. The parents split, Mom takes on a lover. It's chaotic. It's a dream gone wrong. 

Larsen finds it a problem going into mainstream life. She gets into alcohol a lot. She gets into a lot of sex. She doesn't know what to do with her life. She feels lost for  the longest time. She's longing someone to tell her exactly what to do and there's no one to tell her what to do. 

Why Antanas loved the book

I read it twice. My first question was "What?" We tend to read from the point that we're at in our lives. And because I come from an immigrant background, where the parents push you to succeed as well as possible within the structures that exist, this is completely different. Here, parents saw the structures that existed and found them unjust, found that they should be changed, found that they should be broken, found that something better should be made. This is a life wildly different from mine. I found that so interesting. 

Antanas Sileika's comments have been edited and condensed.