Curbstone Press, 2009.
In Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s novel, Gringolandia, Chilean journalist Marcelo Aguilar, after years of imprisonment and torture during the Pinochet regime, joins his Americanized family in Wisconsin. It’s 1986. Marcelo arrives in the US physically and mentally a broken man who looks 20 years older than he is. Gringolandia is the story of his family’s adjustment to his entry into their American world and his own struggle to recover and to continue fighting for Chile’s freedom. It’s also the story of teenagers whose sense of responsibility and initiative, reflection on their own feelings and opinions, and compassion for others’ profound suffering lead them through adventure, risk, and loss to deep understanding.
Aguilar had published an underground paper that gave the names of torturers and collaborators in the regime. Consequently, Pinochet’s thugs beat him up and arrested him in front of his wife and son, Daniel, then aged 11. Because the easiest way to elicit confessions (and collaborators’ names) from prisoners was to threaten their families, Daniel, his younger sister Tina, and their mother moved to Wisconsin and mounted a vigorous campaign for Marcelo’s release.
Daniel and his girlfriend Courtney narrate the story. An aspiring journalist, Courtney is the daughter of a minister who lost his church because of his participation in the sanctuary movement for Central American refugees. Without glossing over the horrors of torture, Miller-Lachmann tells a hopeful story. There is no conventional happy ending, but each character comes to terms with this difficult situation in his or her own way. Gringolandia closes in Chile in 1988, after Pinochet's defeat, with Marcelo’s lovely metaphor of an injured parrot, rescued and brought back to health.
Miller-Lachmann, editor-in-chief of Multicultural Review, precedes her novel with a note explaining the historical context of the CIA-backed coup that brought Pinochet to power and led to the assassination of democratically elected President Allende and the exile or emigration of a tenth of Chile’s population. A glossary of Spanish terms and idioms, including some specific to Chile, follows the story.
Gringolandia is a true crossover book, with appeal for adults as well as older teens. For concerned young people eager to learn about the real world, this intimate study of the consequences of torture will be a treasure.