Daniel’s papá, Marcelo, used to play soccer, dance the cueca, and drive his kids to school in a beat-up green taxi—all while publishing an underground newspaper that exposed Chile’s military regime.
After papá’s arrest in 1980, Daniel’s family fled to the United States. Now Daniel has a new life, playing guitar in a rock band and dating Courtney, a minister’s daughter. He hopes to become a US citizen as soon as he turns eighteen.
When Daniel’s father is released and rejoins his family, they see what five years of prison and torture have done to him. Marcelo is partially paralyzed, haunted by nightmares, and bitter about being exiled to “Gringolandia.” Daniel worries that Courtney’s scheme to start a bilingual human rights newspaper will rake up papá’s past and drive him further into alcohol abuse and self-destruction. Daniel dreams of a real father-son relationship, but he may have to give up everything simply to save his papá’s life. (Summary from book jacket)
Gringolandia is a story that from the very first page had me riding an emotional rollercoaster. I was aghast at the inhumane treatment Daniel’s father suffered. I felt ashamed that I knew nothing about the historical events that Lyn Miller-Lachmann so carefully researched. I ached for Marcelo and his family as they all tried to adjust and come to terms with the six years taken from them. I was proud of the way Daniel continued to care about his father despite his destructive nature, and I was happy and satisfied with the story’s outcome.
There are several reasons why Gringolandia affected me so intensely. One is certainly because I found the plot so complex. Miller-Lachmann had to show several years within a short period of time. No easy task without making the reader either bored or dizzy. However, her effective use of flashbacks and alternating points of view to weave the various events together in order to produce a beautiful and vivid story of people definitely had a great deal to do with playing with my emotions.
The two major themes in the story were certainly another reason why I felt so emotionally involved. First, the book looks at survival. Marcelo survives unimaginable torture during his imprisonment. The idea that one man could continue to endure so many atrocities without breaking is beyond my comprehension. Knowing the pain he suffered made his character much more real to me. It also helped me understand his inability to give up and accept the safety of life in the United Sates once he was released and ordered out of the country he so obviously loved. However, Marcelo was not the only one who had survived. His wife and children, Daniel and Tina, were also survivors. Coming to the U.S. after Marcelo’s arrest could not have been easy. Not speaking the language, fitting in at school, finding work, all of these things that I take for granted were huge obstacles they faced when they had to relocate from their home that now threatened their very existence.
The other theme that tugged at my emotions was Daniel’s desire to have a relationship with his father. For me, this is the element in the story I connected with the strongest. Daniel’s desire is also the main conflict. First, Daniel has to overcome his feelings of guilt over his father’s arrest. Then when Marcelo is released and comes to America, Daniel has to find a way to reconnect with a father whose memory does not match the reality of the person he is now. Early in the story Daniel expresses this conflict after listening to his father describe his reasons for his actions:
“Papa’s words race through my mind. I want to think of him as a hero and me as the son of someone who did great things. Like investigating secret prisons and bearing witness to what went on there. But there’s a huge empty space in my chest when I think of all the time we missed together. Five years, three months, and sixteen days, to be exact. And when I walk out of the studio, my fists are again clenched, and my neck and shoulder ache, as I think of how he put us in danger, ordered us out of the country⎯and still wants to go back there.”
The disparity between Daniel and his father continues for most of the story. Daniel has adjusted to life in America while it is obvious that his father will never accept "Gringolandia" as home. However, as Daniel begins to understand more about his father, the gulf between their beliefs begins to shrink. In the end, Miller-Lachmann provided me with an understanding of just how important it is to bridge the differences that parents and children often have with each other.
Gringolandia is a luminous novel. Miller-Lachmann’s prose is vivid, her command of plot structure amazing, and her ability to create characters whose voices are so real they jump off the page is dazzling. Every time I tried to write this review, I found it impossible to convey the power I felt on every page. This is not a book to be missed.
About the Author:
Lyn Miller-Lachmann is the Editor-in-Chief of the MultiCultural Review, author of the award-winning reference work Our Family, Our Friends, Our World: An Annotated Guide to Significant Multiculteral books for Children and Teenagers and the eco-thriller Dirt Cheap, and the editor of Once Upon a Cuento.
Gringolandia is a 2010 American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults and has been named a finalist in the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year contest in the YA Fiction category.
Also be sure to check out a really great interview with Lyn Miller-Lachmann over at The Rejectionist and her review post on Readergirlz of Dreamer Girl by Pam Munoz Ryan.