Take this advice.
I remember vividly, possibly to the day (definitely to the month), the point at which I fell deeply, maybe pathetically in love with Latin American history (in particular, military dictatorships and, best of all to me, revolutions!!!!) and knew that my life would not be complete without it. It probably isn’t surprising that my love affair began, as so many of mine do, with a book. At this point I was 19, and fresh out of Kentucky-land-of-the-ponies-and-the-sorority-and-the-free-drinks-for-all-girls-in-skirts, which should suggest to you I wasn’t exactly an academic. I begrudgingly took a history class called Modern Latin America. Begrudgingly because, duh, I was an ENGLISH major and why did I need history. The professor (a lovely, quiet, charming woman who I harbored a secret brain-crush on–she now teaches at William & Mary and is probably at this moment influencing the lives of similarly quiet girls in Virginia) assigned a segment from A Lexicon of Terror: Argentina and the Legacies of Torture (Marguerite Feitlowitz). I can’t tell you how quickly this book changed my life. I finished this book–read well beyond the assigned 100 pages–and thought, well, holy fucking shit. This book.
This book. This Dirty War. I was so inexplicably drawn to Argentina for years. Moreover, to South America, to Central America, to the epic, terrifying and guilty history of these lovely countries and cities I could only sadly imagine and realize through books. This love affair, it hasn’t ended. This morning I finished Isabel Allende’s the House of Spirits. I am too overwhelmed by the loveliness and importance of this book to write much about it. Allende is Chilean–she lived & loved through her cousin’s all-too-brief regime and escaped during Pinochet’s all-too-long–and the family in this book deeply parallels both Allende’s experience and the experience of all too many Chileans. Read this book. Read this book. I can’t emphasize this enough. Read. This. Book.