Title: Gringolandia
Author: Lyn Miller-Lachmann
ISBN: 9781931896498
Pages: 279 pages
Publisher/Date: Curbstone Press, c2009.

“Marcelo knew only what the other prisoners told him. In the third year of a nineteen-year sentence, he awakened one day unable to move. Unable even to speak, his tongue a huge cotton plug in his mouth.
The companeros’ version too was sketchy, incomplete. Guards had taken him downstairs to the commander on a Sunday morning. The companeros recalled it was Sunday, for the doctors, the ones who kept the prisoners alive so they could be tortured another day, were gone to church. He was dragged back to the cell the next day–naked, unconscious, covered in filth, bleeding from his nose and right ear.
Several hours later he had a seizure. Guards took him away again. (8)

Marcelo Aguilar Gaetani was locked in a prison and tortured by Chilean officials for six years for running an underground newspaper that reported crimes against the citizens. Now, he’s moved to Madison, Wisconsin to rejoin his family, seventeen-year-old Daniel, 13-year-old Tina, and their mother. He speaks no English, is paralyzed on the one side, is an alcoholic, and suffers from nightmares of the abuses that occurred to him and his companions. Understandably, Daniel doesn’t know what to think of his father, except that he feels responsible for his father’s capture that night six years ago. When Marcelo starts speaking and trying to publish his experiences, he’s disappointed by his lack of ability to make a difference thousands of miles away from his own country. And that’s when, with the help of Daniel and his girlfriend Courtney, Daniel’s father concots a hair-brained scheme to return to the country that threw him out and wants him dead.

Lyn Miller-Lachmann does an excellent job grabbing the reader’s attention from the very beginning. It opens with Daniel witnessing his father being arrested and beaten, shifts gears several years later to Marcelo’s experience in captivity, and then fast forwards again to the reunion between Marcelo, his wife, and Daniel. Some chapters are also written from Courtney’s perspective, which reveal that she has her own secret reasons for assisting Daniel and his dad. I imagine much like PTSD that soldiers suffer from after battle, Marcelo has to deal with the side effects of his brutal torture, including rage, pain, and feelings of inadequacy. Daniel also must come to terms with his guilt of leading to his father’s arrest while facing his father’s dramatic transformation from the soccer playing, taxi driving father to the war-torn, broken, paranoid, unshaven man that occuppies his couch because he can’t be close to anyone. While a little more background involving the conflict might have been appreciated, it did a good job of keeping the politics and history to a minimum and focusing on the family’s story. The morals of the United States, the different government factions of Chile, and even Daniel, Marcelo and his companions are called into question, but that’s not the driving force behind the novel. Instead they’re all trying to reassemble a family that has been irrevocably torn apart through no fault of their own, and trying not to blame each other for the change that has occurred over the last six years. Readers might be slightly confused by the cover until they reach the final pages of the novel, and the ending leaves readers asking themselves “What would you have done?” if placed in the same situation.

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