Friday I finished Peter Andreas’ Rebel Mother (going from page 175 to page 320). It was a great, quick read and I finished it in about 24 hours. I’d give it 9/10.
The second day of reading didn’t hit me quite as hard as did the first day. Once you’ve acclimated to the world of Carol Andreas, things just don’t seem quite as shocking.
I started reading @ one of the book’s turning points. At page 175, Peter is living with his father, Carl, in suburban Detroit. But Carol is determined to kidnap Peter and take him back to Peru. Peter reluctantly agrees to help her with the scheme, but he is pained by having to choose between his parents.
Predictably, life isn’t easy when Peter, Carol, and Raul (her second husband) make it back to Peru. Carol discovers that Raul had an affair while they were living in Denver and – as a result – she tells Peter that she is considering suicide. Andreas writes that “My mother was so self-absorbed in her woes that she seemed completely unaware that her talk of suicide was upsetting me. … Looking back at that moment, I still feel that same anger today: a mother should never tell her ten-year-old child that she’s thinking about killing herself” (p. 189). The reader admires Peter’s candor in telling this painful, personal story.
Back to the USA
Predictably, the Marxist revolution never makes it to Peru. Carol leaves Raul and heads back to Denver with Peter. For Peter, life in Denver is closer to normal, but still a challenge. Carol continues all sorts of activism, including an association with David Gilbert, who currently is serving life without parole for his part in the 1981 murder of a Brinks armored-car guard. Carol also becomes a serial shoplifter, even stealing Peter’s birthday gifts.
The Political is Personal
Though Carol transformed her life based on her politics, she could not control her sons. Eldest son Joel was the closest to her in regard to politics; the two argued over who was the better communist. Middle son Ronald angrily split from Carol and moved to New Zealand, though the two would have some limited contact by the end of Carol’s life. Ronald’s defection tormented Carol. But it made me wonder if Ronald might be more like his mother than she cared to admit. (One frustration with the book is that Peter does not tell the reader what became of his brothers or his father).
As for Peter, he gradually disengaged from his mother’s view after he left for college. For Carol, the loss of Peter’s loyalty was devastating. After her death, Peter found an April 1991 diary entry in which she says that she cannot sleep due to “Peter’s betrayal of class struggle” (p. 308).
Reflecting on an Unconventional Life
Peter tries to end the book on a positive note, writing of that many positive aspects of life with Carol. I found this section to be unconvincing. I thought that Peter was telling the truth about his mother, but not “the whole truth.” My sense is that he’s still ambivalent and that his decision to raise his daughters in a more-conventional lifestyle reveals some of his feelings.
In summary, Rebel Mother is a terrific book, a tale of life lived far off the beaten path. I recommend it.