I've been given the wonderful opportunity to be part of the book tour for author Lyn Miller-Lachmann's novel titled Gringolandia. Today is my stop for the tour and along with a fascinating interview with Lyn, I'll be hosting a giveaway for a signed copy of her book. But first here is a brief description of the book:
I had an interest in Chile beginning when I was a freshman in high school and read about the Chilean people electing a socialist president; usually, socialists came to power after a revolution like in Russia, China, or Cuba. The first political demonstration I ever attended was my freshman year in college, when I protested an appearance by the U.S. ambassador to Chile following the bloody military coup that brought down Dr. Salvador Allende’s democratically elected government.
I’ve always liked folk music, and in college I became a fan of Latin American New Song, in which many Chilean musicians played a major role. When I moved with my husband to Madison, Wisconsin in the 1980s, I became friends with a group of exiles from Chile, and together we planned concerts and other events to let people know about Chile’s rich cultural heritage and to support the country’s return to democracy. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a number of countries that had suffered under dictatorships were able to attain their freedom—not only Chile but also the Philippines, East Germany, most of Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and South Africa. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the end of apartheid in South Africa have been well covered in the news and in literature, but the lesser known triumphs of democracy are also inspiring examples of nonviolent “people power” and important for the people in those countries who sacrificed much to reclaim their dignity and human rights. Having lived among Chilean exiles, and known people from elsewhere in Latin America who lived in the US. what struck me about the Chileans was their longing for their country and their sense that this narrow land between the mountains and the sea was a unique place on earth. I’ve traveled a lot of places, and I can say that the landscape of Chile really is one of the most interesting, varied, and beautiful in the world. I hope readers get a chance to visit Chile and see for themselves.
2.) What sort of research was involved for the novel?
In addition to living among and working alongside Chilean exiles for seven years, I received a work-in-progress grant from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators to travel to Chile to see the country and interview human rights activists and former political prisoners. I spent more than three weeks in the country and stayed with the families of several musicians who were notable figures in the pro-democracy movement. I was there in 1990, right before General Augusto Pinochet turned over power to an elected government, so I could see the preparations being made for a return to democracy. I also saw evidence of the dictatorship in the form of soldiers with machine guns everywhere. While I was there, cars in which I was riding were stopped four times in roadblocks. One was on a lonely country road, where a well-known protest singer had taken a shortcut to his family’s beach house. Given that many government opponents “disappeared” on such roads during the dictatorship, I suspect that my U.S. passport had something to do with his ability to take the shortcut that afternoon.
3.) The title Gringolandia is a very interesting one; what's the story behind it?
The novel originally had another title, but in the 22 years it took me to find a publisher a big Hollywood movie—a romantic comedy—came out with the same title. In the meantime, I completely rewrote my original manuscript, and early on in the new version, Daniel’s father calls the U.S. Gringolandia—gringo being a negative term for a person from the United States. Right away, this introduces the conflict at the heart of the novel. Daniel, who has been living in the U.S. for more than five years, has learned English, found a girlfriend, and likes his life in his adopted homeland—so much so that he has started the process to become a U.S. citizen. But the United States is the last place that Marcelo, Daniel’s father, wants to be, because the U.S. government helped to plan the military coup that brought the dictatorship to power. Despite the fact that he was imprisoned and brutally tortured, Marcelo wants to return to Chile to continue the struggle, and he wants his family to join him there.
4.) The main character of Gringolandia is a teenage boy: did you find it difficult to write in a male's P.O.V.?
This isn’t the first novel I’ve written from a male point of view. My first YA novel, Hiding Places (1987) was from the P.O.V. of a 17-year-old boy who runs away to New York City, and one of the three P.O.V. characters of my adult novel, Dirt Cheap (2006), is a 44-year-old man. My brother and I are close in age, and when I was in high school, almost all of my friends were boys. Through my brother, his friends, and my friends (as well as, years later, my son and his friends) I got to know the way boys think and talk. Daniel is the type of slightly geeky, really-into-music boy who I spent a lot of time with in high school—both in class and at a community radio station where I volunteered afternoons and weekends. And now as the assistant host of a Latin American music show on WRPI, the radio station of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, I still see lots of those guys hanging a round the station, who’ve been more than happy to help me with any questions I have about the character.
5.) I know that there's going to be a companion novel to Gringolandia in the future. What's it about?
The new novel, entitled THE MINUS WORLD, is from the point of view of Daniel’s younger sister, Tina, three years later. In Gringolandia, Tina is 12 years old, she doesn’t really fit in anywhere, and when her
father returns, she’s scared of him and runs away from him. By the time THE MINUS WORLD begins, she’s 15 going on 16. She’s grown comfortable in an alternative school and with her friends there, but her life changes again when she is sent to Chile to get to know her family. The story takes place in Chile in the final months of the dictatorship, and Tina, who’s unaware of the social and cultural “rules” ends up meeting and becoming involved with a very dangerous boy.
6.) What message do you want to express with Gringolandia?
First and foremost, I wanted to write the story of a relationship between a son and a father who haven’t seen each other for many years, and during that time, both have changed completely in ways that seem incompatible with each other. Daniel, who watched in horror as his father was arrested, wants nothing more than an ordinary, stable life.When his father returns to the family, Daniel is brought face-to-face with his past and with his Chilean identity. He has to ask himself how much of his new life in the United States he is willing to sacrifice to have the relationship he dreamed of while his father was in prison.I also want readers to understand that democracy isn’t something we in the U.S. should take for granted. Once it’s gone, it’s very hard to get back, and the costs of getting it back are very great. The Chileans who peacefully ended 17 years of dictatorship had to endure great pain and hardship and possess extraordinary courage. Thousand did not survive the struggle, and thousands more, like Marcelo, were damaged forever by the experience of imprisonment and torture. Finally, we hear in the news about the U.S. engaging in “enhanced interrogation” in places like Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. “Enhanced interrogation” is another word for torture, and torture is something that no society calling itself civilized should practice. Having been degraded by his torturers, Marcelo in turn degrades himself by becoming an alcoholic and abusing his family. Daniel absorbs his father’s anger and lashes out as well. Torture degrades the victim, the perpetrator, their families, and the entire society. I hope people who read Gringolandia speak out against torture and become defenders of human rights.
Thank you so much for answering my questions, Lyn! When I found out that there was a YA novel about Chile, I was so excited! And intrigued! My family happens to be from Chile :)
Lyn Miller-Lachmann is the Editor-in-Chief of MultiCultural Review, the author of the award-winning reference book Our Family, Our Friends, Our World: An Annotated Guide to Significant Multicultural Books for Children and Teenagers (1992), the editor of Once Upon a Cuento (2003), a collection of short stories for young readers by Latino authors, and the author of the novel Dirt Cheap (2006), an eco-thriller for adult readers. For Gringolandia, she received a Work-in-Progress Grant from the Society of Childrens Book Writers and Illustrators.
Now, onto the contest! One lucky winner will be receiving an autographed copy of Lyn's novel.
How to enter:
just fill out this form (This contest is now closed)
If you're interested in all the tour stops and dates for the Gringolandia tour, here is the scheduele:
Feb 1st: Laina Has Too Much Spare Time
Feb 2nd: Read Into This!
Feb 3rd: Pirate Penguin's Reads (that's me!)
Feb 4th: The Bookologist
Feb 5th: Yay! Reads