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Rebel Mother: My Childhood Chasing the Revolution Hardcover – April 4, 2017
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—The New York Times Book Review
“Moving … poignant … Rebel Mother makes the case for a mother-son bond powerful enough to transcend economic hardship, emotional missteps, intermittent absences and, ultimately, differences in values and politics. … Compelling and unusual.”
“A remarkable memoir … Rebel Mother relates an incredible childhood of communes and coups across the US and Latin America.”
“This is a riveting story, compellingly told by an accomplished writer. Peter had his own radical turn when, defying his mother, he moved away from radicalism. His academic work in political science and writing about Latin America, however, show he is still very much the son of his beloved mother.”
“[A] luminous memoir … vivid, picaresque … Andreas’s exuberant but clear-eyed memoir paints an indelible portrait of his charismatic mother, the era’s expansive pursuit of freedom and idealistic commitment, and the toll of exhausted dreams and frayed relationships the idealists left behind.”
—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“Enthralling … Writing with candor and sincerity, Andreas—now an international studies professor at Brown University—creates an unforgettable portrait of a remarkable woman. … Rebel Mother offers a sympathetic and fascinating glimpse into the life of a radical woman, a tumultuous era and a sensitive young man’s coming of age.”
—BookPage, Top Pick in Nonfiction for April 2017
“Those who enjoyed Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle will find much to admire here. … This is both a story of a mother and son’s fierce devotion to one another, and a fascinating portrait of a woman’s life spent committed to radical ideas and politics, and how this affected her closest ally and confidant.”
—Booklist, Starred Review
“A profound and enlightening book that will open readers up to different ideas about love, acceptance, and the bond between mother and son.”
—Library Journal, Starred Review
“A warm, tender tale of protective love and codependency in a mother-son pair living in extreme circumstances.”
“[Andreas’] life is rich with the gift of a woman who let herself truly be known by her son, warts and all. … Rebel Mother traces Carol Andreas' transformation from a traditional 1950s housewife into a Marxist traveling the globe in search of the revolution.”
—Dallas Morning News
About the Author
Peter Andreas is the John Hay Professor of International Studies at Brown University, where he holds a joint appointment between the Department of Political Science and the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. Andreas has published ten books, including Rebel Mother: My Childhood Chasing the Revolution and Smuggler Nation: How Illicit Trade Made America. He has also written for a range of publications, including Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The Guardian, Harpers, The Nation, The New Republic, Slate, and The Washington Post. A graduate of Swarthmore College and Cornell University, he lives with his family in Providence, Rhode Island.
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Peter Andreas mined his own childhood memories and the copious diaries his mother Carol kept up to the night of her death to write Rebel Mother. Especially impressive, if not amazing, is how perceptive and resourceful he seemed as a child. It is questionable if other children that age would have adjusted as well to the turmoil of his parent’s tempestuous separation and divorce, living on the lam with his mother and brothers in a commune in Berkeley, and then traveling to Chile and Peru with his mother, often living in primitive, cramped quarters together with whomever her lover was at the time. Moreover, Peter often feared for Carol’s safety because he was well aware that her political activism also courted danger and possibly death with the authorities.
At the same time, Peter developed an instinctive understanding of his relationship with his mother, which demonstrated a maturity not often seen in children that young. He also developed the street smarts to adapt quickly to his surroundings, for example wasting little time in becoming bilingual in Spanish and English. Consequently, Carol and Peter formed a very strong bond while becoming each other’s rock and balm. Yet, over time, Carol’s obsession with her activism and participating in a revolution, not to mention her problematic love life, increasingly troubled Peter as he matured and began to yearn for a more “normal” life back in the States. Carol ultimately recognized and yielded to Peter’s wish and they returned to the U.S. and settled in Denver, Colorado. Carol, however, assumed a pseudonym, just in case.
Peter ends his story on a positive note after Carol’s death, with reconciliation of opposites to some extent among his family members. Throughout Rebel Mother, Carol was on a quest but what was she really seeking? Her goals as an activist seemed unfulfilled as did her unconventional love life. Perhaps some readers may wonder whether Carol’s life would have been different and personally more rewarding if she had made different choices. Why did she cling so adamantly to her Marxist Weltanschauung so long after many of her activist contemporaries had abandoned it for more moderate political alternatives? She resisted pursuing a conventional academic career because she preferred to do things her way. She was obviously gifted intellectually and creatively and could have excelled possibly as a writer or artist instead. But she returned to academia, received tenure, and then retired shortly afterward. What if Carol had chosen a different path? We’ll never know.
It’s a compelling story that keeps raising questions long after it’s finished.
Carol, a Mennonite girl from Kansas, becomes an ardent feminist and Marxist revolutionary whose fight for human rights takes her to a Berkeley commune, to Chile’s Allende revolution and to the slums of Peru. The tale is written by her youngest son, Peter, based on his vivid memories and Carol’s copious notebooks left to him after her death in 2004.
Carol, the rebel, highly intelligent, angered by the inequities and injustices she sees, becomes convinced that change must come and she must help. Her dream becomes a passion, but at a cost.
As she completes her PhD in Sociology, her 3rd son, Peter, is born. Soon after, she publishes her first book, Sex and Caste in America. It is the 60s, the era of anti-war demonstrations, peace marches, and civil rights protests, a natural fit with Mennonite pacifism. Carol finds a tenure-track university job at Oakland University near Detroit, but her marriage to Carl, who has his own dreams for a new house and traditional Mennonite family life, is over. She takes her children with her to live in a commune she establishes near Berkeley and continues her activist work.
In 1972, Carol and Peter, now 7, fly to Chile, where Carol gathers notes for a book on women in Allende’s Socialist party. Peter’s vivid account of the dangers, the dirt, lice, and unhealthy lives they lived, with constant moves, no structured education, and with his mother’s multiple lovers moving in and out, is astounding.
While students at Harvard and Berkeley organize protests around the 1973 Allende coup, Carol is in Chile, in the midst of the action, frantically burning evidence of their activities before the soldiers arrive. She joins Peter, and the next morning, they escape out of the country, Peter carrying hidden papers that could have led to their arrest if discovered. Carol had lost all her journals and research notes in the fires.
Peter’s book shows a remarkable memory, adaptability, and maturity. He learns Spanish more rapidly than Carol and finds his way through frightening situations. When he’s lost for 3 hours in the “worst slums of Lima” she calmly asks him where he’s been so long. A kind man helped him. He’d been looking for ice cream. She allows him enormous freedom. He feels resentment at times about her constant moves, her ongoing arguments with other revolutionaries and when she invites her lovers into their rooms. And he misses his father, a clean bed, and Saturday morning cartoons. But what consistently shows through is a genuine, tender love between mother and son.
As a high school friend who shares Carol's Mennonite heritage, I read this with conflicting emotions: Admiration for her courage in pursuing her ideals—but shock and dismay at how she went about it. I cringe at the danger, the instability, and the unhealthy living situations she brought to her sons, and freeze at the battering of Carl’s life and loss of his children. Is it selfishness and egotism to assume your ideals are the best for all? Or was Carol a visionary? She may have brought lasting changes for her S.A. friends.
Questions keep rising in my head: What about the impact of such dedication on her children? As a mother, I think I could never expose my children to such instability and danger. But is it more important to protect your own children from any potential harm or to include them in work that might improve life for millions? At the end, Peter lists some of Carol’s partial parenting (my words) lapses that he hopes to avoid with his own daughters, but says, “there is so much she gave me . . . I would never trade for a thousand ‘normal’ childhoods. Without her I would have led a more narrow insular life, less aware of other people and cultures and less concerned about the world’s great injustices and inequalities. Her fiery idealism and passion for social justice is inspiring.”
Peter has given this extraordinary woman new life with his loving, perceptive portrayal, even as he’s given us much to reflect on.