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  • Families in War And Peace: Chile from colony to nation by Sarah C. Chambers
  • Sandra Collins
Families in War And Peace: Chile from colony to nation. By Sarah C. Chambers. Durham: Duke University Press, 2015.

Since the 1980s familial networks and gender have been growing as a way of interpreting history in Latin America. Numerous studies have demonstrated how family bonds among elite Creole were later exploited in the struggle to separate from Spain. This was particularly visible in Chile, where the colonial economy had been held up by a kinship pattern of marriages between Chilean-born daughters and Spanish immigrants. Mary Lowenthal Felstiner's work on kinship politics and family metaphors was the first to show how family and politics were entwined during the shift to Independence in Chile, and how language connected to family and politics became a tool to unify elite families in their desire to break away from the crown. In Families in War and Peace: Chile from colony to nation, Sarah Chambers extends this analysis to the use of familial rhetoric in nation formation, arguing that it was equally instrumental in re-forging links devastated by the ongoing wars of the early nineteenth century.

While studies on Chilean nation building have tended to date issues of family regeneration to the Conservative era beginning in 1830, Chambers demonstrates that it was a central consideration in the establishment of a stable government and society even during the tumultuous years directly following the wars of Independence. The objective of a "greater Chilean family" underpinned the formation of policies consciously designed to gain support and legitimacy for the fledgling nation. Paternal governance, so often cited as key to the endurance of Spanish hegemony in the Americas, was carried over to the ad hoc judicial systems of the Patria Vieja, and was later consolidated through courts that resolved property disputes, provided military pensions and dealt with legal disputes over family maintenance and custody. Chambers shows how Republican rhetoric was related to the family, and that this was increasingly utilised by non-elite members of society. Interesting examples of this are given in Chapter Six, when appeals from lower class women looking for child support for children out of wedlock or military pensions are shown to allude to paternal responsibility and even the legacy of slavery. With the onset of Liberalism in the second half of the nineteenth century, appeals to the mercy of a father figure began to fall on deaf ears. Legal reforms initiated by the Civil Code of 1855 saw a shift to the perception of poor women and children without access to family networks as "a potential labour force who should better earn their keep by working, often in the households of their social betters" (212). Such insights are profound when attempting to understand the patriarchal authority that continues to be the subject of speculation today.

One of the book's greatest strengths is the way in which the structure allows for the multi-levelled discourses, negotiations and disputes to weave in and out of the discussion. The chronology that dictates events in Chile is the life of Javiera Carrera, sister of the Liberators Juan José, José Miguel and Luis. While her brothers had all died by 1821, Javiera lived until 1862 and bore witness to the multiple governments, wars and constitutions that shaped the lives of so many families. An analysis of her letters and correspondence offers a window to contemporary readers on the intricacies of relationships, the way events and decision-making could manipulate and be manipulated, and the way power was maintained through kinship relations though generations. Returning to Javiera's story throughout the book demonstrates the complex routes that negotiations of gender and one's role in the family could take, and demonstrates the complex engagements between individuals and government.

The overarching structure is divided into two parts. The first part, "Families and War," shows how families mobilised politically and activism was carried out based on gender roles and place in the family during the years of Independence; while "Reconciling the National Family" traces state formation from 1823 to the 1850s. The traditional linear presentation of time helps the reader contextualise...

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