Written by Caitlin O’Keefe
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Reading into History Family Book Club welcomes award-winning author Marjorie Agosín via Skype for our September 10 meeting to discuss her sweeping novel I Lived on Butterfly Hill. Learn more about Agosín’s book, then check out our interview with her below. We look forward to seeing you this Sunday to discuss the novel and ask the author your questions!
DiMenna Children’s History Museum: Like your novel’s protagonist, Celeste, your family left Chile to escape the Pinochet regime when you were a child. What else do you have in common with Celeste?
Marjorie Agosín: I have much in common with Celeste. We are both writers. We like to dream, and we are doers. We want to change the world and record the beauty and the somberness of history.
DCHM: What kind of research did you conduct to capture Valparaíso as it was in 1973 (the year in which part of the novel takes place)?
Marjorie Agosín: My family arrived to the Port of Valparaíso in the late 1920s and late 1930s. As a child I grew up with these stories and Valparaíso was a part of me. I read a lot about the dark times in Valparaíso when the military dictatorship took over, but I must say it is all from experience from actually seeing it and been there.
DCHM: When Celeste arrives in the United States, it isn’t just the big differences—like the language and the people—that made Maine feel very foreign. The little differences are also jarring—like the colors, the trees, and the sounds. Which differences affected you when you arrived in the United States?
Marjorie Agosín: What made an impact on me when I arrived were the people. I found them more distant than the Chilean [people]. They never kissed you or greeted you when you met them, and you could not simply drop by; the sense of privacy was different and everything was silent and still. It was very different from Valparaíso.
DCHM: Most of your writing about Chile and moving to the United States is written for adults. Why did you decide to make this a story for young readers?
Marjorie Agosín: I wanted young people in the United States to know the history of Chile and to realize that it is not easy to became an immigrant—and I would hope that as these young people grow up, [they] will come to know about the CIA involvement in the overthrow of a freely elected president, Salvador Allende. Many young people do not know it.
DCHM: What three words would you use to describe I Lived on Butterfly Hill?
Marjorie Agosín: Luminous. Hopeful. Imaginative