Chapter One, page 14
beyond recognition, eyes gouged out, fingernails pulled off, faces
smashed by fierce blows. I closed the book quickly but thanked my teachers
When I got home, I hid the book on the tallest shelf I could find, so that
would never again have to see what happens to revolutionary young men and
women with convictions.
The very first day of sixth grade, I met Marta, a short, toothy girl with bright eyes and freckles, who quickly became my friend. Like me, she took school seriously and always carried a book with her. Marta lived with her grandmother, Carmelina, a kind old woman who taught piano and French to a select group of children. To study with Marta’s grandmother was a privilege, a sign that you were ambitious and smart enough to garner the attention of the most educated woman in the neighborhood. Before the revolution she had gone to school abroad, in France and the United States, where she had majored in philosophy. She knew history and geography and geometry as intimately as she knew the contours of her house.
I already knew of Carmelina’s reputation, and I liked Marta a great deal, so I immediately told her that I wanted to do my homework with her. Kathy, who was my oldest friend, also came along. A partnership was forged. Every day after school, we would go home and shower quickly and then rush to Marta’s dining room, where, at the head of a long wooden table with thick, carved legs, her grandmother awaited. First we would do our homework with her guidance, then review the day’s lessons. She would push us to think critically, to go beyond the chapter at hand. We would stay at that table until Carmelina was certain that, for that day at least, we understood the world as she saw it. She would often finish the evening by playing the piano as we sat on the posh but faded couches of her living room and looked at the paintings of English hunting parties on the walls.
My grades improved so dramatically that I could entertain thoughts of going to the country’s top university preparatory school, the Vocational School Vladimir Ilich Lenin. There were three girls who had a good chance that year. I was one of them; the other two were Kathy, whose sister already attended the school, and Marta, whose parents everyone said were members of the militia, the