The Book That Changed Your Life: Carmen Aguirre

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      The Word Vancouver festival is set for its 2016 edition with a massively inclusive lineup of authors, appearing at venues around town from September 21 to 25.

      We asked a group of these much-admired writers to tell us about their finest reading experiences. Which books put a stamp on their imaginations early on? Which ones revealed to them the full powers of the written word?

      Here’s what Vancouver’s Carmen Aguirre told us. Aguirre is a celebrated theatre artist, playwright, and author of the bestselling memoir Something Fierce and its recent follow-up, Mexican Hooker #1. She’ll read from her work at 4:30 p.m. on September 25, on the fest’s Community Garden stage at the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library.

      In the summer of 2003 my mother sent me a book. I was living in Los Angeles at the time, trying to finish a screenplay entitled Cojones or Bust. But I digress. The book my mother sent was Santiago-Paris: El Vuelo de la Memoria (Santiago-Paris: The Flight of Memory), cowritten by Carmen Castillo and Mónica Echeverría, a daughter-and-mother duo. Castillo was a founding member of the MIR, Movement of the Revolutionary Left, that my mother and I belonged to. She had spent most of Pinochet's dictatorship exiled in Paris. Echeverría, who had stayed in Chile, was an outspoken member of the opposition, though in disagreement with her daughter's revolutionary politics.

      Their book covered 70 years of Chile's 20th century. It was personal and political, a historical document and an intimate conversation and debate between mother and daughter. I devoured it and wept, laughed, and nodded. Tender and intimate, it told a secret story of inconceivable pain and loss, now out in the open. It shook me to my core and gave me the balls to turn the shy notes I'd been taking into my first memoir, Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter.

      Carmen Aguirre.