Growing up is a confusing and fascinating experience for everyone. For Magdalena and her best friends Emilia and Cora, living in an upscale neighborhood in Montevideo, Uruguay, there is nothing quite as safe and perfect as their sheltered lives. Little did they know that whispers of revolution would soon infiltrate every corner of their beloved city, even into the homes of their own friends and neighbors.
Magda tries her best to maintain a “normal” life, but a fateful visit to the University to hear Che Guevara speak changes all that in ways no one could have imagined. What had previously been quiet whispers of revolution rose until random arrests from the nervous police force goaded the revolutionaries into employing terrorist tactics and engaging in guerrilla warfare in the city streets.
Before the troubles the girls barely knew the name Tupamaros, but some are destined to know the Tupas intimately, whether through choice or through false accusations leveled on them by local law enforcement. Throughout the struggle many innocent people will be hurt, and no one escapes that kind of political instability unscathed.
Several years ago I met someone online from Montevideo that I have kept in contact with to this day. Throughout our discussions, this guy occasionally referred to bad things that had happened in the city in the recent past and “a lot of trouble” in the 60s and 70s…I was in high school at the time and South America is usually not a priority of the school system, so I had no idea what he was talking about.
I’m never one to simply accept ignorance so as soon as the opportunity presented itself I started studying…first just Uruguay, then South America as a whole…slowly giving myself as full of a picture of the 60s and 70s as one can get from textbooks. That finished, I needed to find biographies, historical fictions and other such materials to really bring the period to life; an Amazon search brought me The Tree of Red Stars, written by an Uruguayan author and based on her experiences in Montevideo during the “bad times”.
From the very first page I was hooked. Bridal’s storytelling expertise is such that she can bring a very involved and complicated story to the stage and deliver it in a simple, easy-to-read format that moves along quickly and, at least for me, leaves the reader genuinely disappointed that that’s all there is.
If you’re looking for a feel-good book, this is not it. If you’re looking for a kid-safe book, this is probably not it either, there is a lot of violence and some sexual content that parents will want to watch out for. If you’re looking for a great historical fiction that tells the story in a vivid and dramatic yet believable way, this is the book you’re looking for.
I really can’t think of anything negative in this book…some people may not like the ending; it’s certainly no storybook “happily ever after” and the story it follows can be, at times, as bleak as the futures of the people involved seem to be. A search for other books by Tessa Bridal reveals a couple of books in Spanish, but for English-only audiences this appears to be the only book you get for now.
My research into this time period isn’t sufficient to be able to say if the story is 100% historically accurate, but I can say that it jibes with what I already know of the time and of what I’ve heard from someone who got the stories from his mother throughout his childhood. Additionally, there’s some great cultural details that are described in the story before the rise of the Tupas that can help add a bit to a person’s understanding of this fascinating country.
Overall, if you want a great historical fiction that has a very well-told story this book is definitely worth the purchase. I haven’t met many people who are actively trying to learn more about Uruguay, but I have met plenty that barely have any idea of where the country is or anything about it if they’ve heard of it at all…whichever category you’re in, don’t pass up this book.