Monday, July 12, 2010
Review: Gringolandia by Lyn Miller-Lachmann
In 1980, the terrifying Chilean military government throws Daniel’s activist father in jail, sending Dan, his mother, and his younger sister fleeing to the United States. Five years later, Dan is a high school senior when Papa is released from jail and returns to them, broken, angry, and alcoholic. Dan wants to reestablish a relationship with his father, but all Papa seems to care about is going back to Chile and continuing his dangerous revolutionary work. Meanwhile, Dan’s girlfriend Courtney seems to be ignoring Dan in favor of his father, whose stories she is passionate about. With the push-pull of different passions all around them, will Dan be able to have the relationship with his father that he’s always wanted?
GRINGOLANDIA is an important tale of the emotional trauma that resulted from the unstable Chilean government of the 1980s, but it will be hard-pressed to find the right audience for itself. This book is an important but not necessarily easy or sympathetic read.
I know little about Chilean 20th-century history, and GRINGOLANDIA was a different but effective way of introducing me to it. Instead of in-the-moment scenes of horror, we mostly see its emotional aftermath, the way it both physically and mentally scars its victims and tears apart families. Daniel’s father is hard to like—as most political prisoners are and probably should be. Lyn Miller-Lachmann touchingly portrays the strains of Papa’s ghosts on the family in a painful and real way.
However, I also felt that, despite the emotions within the story, this book was, in a ways, difficult for readers to reach emotionally. I never really connected with Dan’s struggles to get to re-know his father. Courtney I thought was even annoying, this white girl trying too hard to ingratiate herself into her Latino boyfriend’s family because of her fixation on his father’s political experiences. It was as if, in trying to work out the tensions between themselves, the characters in this book don’t allow us to sympathize with them.
Overall, GRINGOLANDIA will make a good read for readers interested in this period of South American history, even though it’s missing a few key elements of characterization that would’ve made it exceptional.
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5
Cover discussion: 2 out of 5 - It's symbolic, especially for the end of the book, but otherwise it's not something that would've caught my eye, or made me pick up the book even if it was thrust upon me by a semi-crazy high school English/history teacher or librarian.
Curbstone Press / May 1, 2009 / Hardcover / 250pp. / $16.95
Sent by author for review.