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The Country Under My Skin: A Memoir of Love…
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The Country Under My Skin: A Memoir of Love and War (2002)

by Gioconda Belli

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From the book jacket: An electrifying memoir from the acclaimed Nicaraguan writer … and central figure in the Sandinista revolution. Until her early twenties, Belli inhabited an upper-class cocoon: sheltered from the poverty in Managua in a world of country clubs and debutante balls; educated abroad; early marriage and motherhood. But in 1970, everything changed. Her growing dissatisfaction with domestic life, and a blossoming awareness of the social inequities in Nicaragua, led her to join the Sandinistas, then a burgeoning but still hidden organization. She would be involved with them over the next twenty years at the highest, and often most dangerous levels.

My Reactions
Belli is a good writer and her story-telling is top notch. I was fascinated and intrigued, and I learned something about the revolution in Nicaragua. But … I could not put aside my distaste for the way Belli acted. She seemed so immature in the way she jumped from bed to bed, and how she left her children for “the cause” (or – it seemed to me at times – for the Man behind the cause). She seemed in love with “love” or addicted to the high of passionate emotions. I wondered if she had no impulse control at all. And yet … she was a strong woman with steadfast opinions and a willingness to risk all for the good of her country.

In the end I couldn’t reconcile my admiration for her as a writer with my dislike of her as a person. So I’m conflicted, and am taking the middle road with 3 stars. ( )
  BookConcierge | Apr 17, 2016 |
"What was it that enabled people to give their lives for an idea, for the freedom of others?",, 2 June 2015

This review is from: The Country Under My Skin: A Memoir of Love and War (Paperback)
The Sandinistas and the Contras were just words to me, and I wondered whether this autobiography of a woman who became a Nicaraguan revolutionary would be readable. Well, it certainly is: the author's account of her fascinating life - from privileged daughter of a well-to-do family to an increasing awareness of the horrors of the Somoza regime. As she becomes a member of the illegal Sandinistas, she tells of the passionate commitment to the cause, that ended up taking her away from her children for long spells. Of the friendships and love affairs with her colleagues, and the tragedies of the endless deaths and tortures at the hands of the regime.
As the Sandinistas finally gain victory, Belli writes movingly:
"Overcome with joy, we fell into one another's arms...I don't know who began crying first...but suddenly the tiny apartment was filled with wails and sobs. Alfredo and I looked in each other's eyes, remembering the dinners in Mazatlan with Marcos.I saw Ricardo in the inky twilight at the Poet's house, Pin and his thick eyeglasses, Arnoldo's smile as he left my house, Camilo talking to me about Woodstock..."
But life in Nicaragua remains difficult as the USA supports the expelled Somoza regime, and the Sandinista leaders begin arguing among themselves and losing their revolutionary ideals.
Very interesting and highly readable work. ( )
  starbox | Jun 1, 2015 |
Nowadays, Giaconda Belli is considered one of the most important writers in Latin America, and her biography is extremely interesting because it has shaped the dramatic story of her homeland, Nicaragua. The book starts when she joins the guerrilla movement and relates her participation in the political and revolutionary movement of Nicaragua during the seventies and eighties; but she tells us not only the story of her political persona but also the story of herself as a woman–her life as a mother, lover, daughter, wife, and sister.--Valeria Molteni
  BPLG | Jan 27, 2015 |
This is an intriguing memoir of a woman born into the Nicaraguan upper class, whose experiences and insights cause her to join the Sandinista revolution, work in the Ortega administration, marry an American reporter from NPR and move to Santa Monica, California. What a fascinating life and what multiple perspectives she develops through these experiences.

I have recently read memoirs of other women revolutionaries from Cuba and Russia among others, and have developed more of a knowledge base for making some comparisons. Some of the similarities that I am seeing are struggles with feminist issues, free speech issues, and individual vs. collective rights issues.

Belli is respected for her participation in the revolution early on, as she performs such varied actions as writing poetry, publishing magazines and newspapers, and transporting arms, ALL of which put her life at risk. As the revolution succeeds and the Sandinistas come into power, their attempted treatment of women as equals begins to fail. Belli seems to think this is due to the difficulty of ridding themselves of lifelong habits and beliefs about gender differences. It seems that men carry the largest part of the burden of this imbalance of power between genders in their culture, but women are also responsible for falling for some of these old beliefs and giving in to being taken care of. Belli addresses the difficulty of even developing awareness of our socialized gender ideas, never mind trying to overcome them. It is one of the more insightful analyses about gender I have read and Belli shares her own weaknesses in this arena also.

Additionally the common difficulty with addressing individual rights versus the needs of the collective are seen in this memoir. Surely this is an existential issue that most humans experience. Belli's descriptions of her own experience are very touching. Specifically when she moves to a suburban area in the U.S. from Nicaragua city life, she experiences a deep, almost overwhelming loneliness that goes beyond the experience of moving from one country to another. Her description of this alone is worth the read. It is intriguing to read her comparison of conversations at parties in the U.S. with those in Nicaragua, especially with women in the suburbs who live a more sheltered life. Do the topics of conversation bring us closer or keep us at a distance? Of course this experience of Belli's could have been different and she could have made it different with her own search and exploration, but I know many women in the U.S. suburbs who struggle with this issue. With the quiet, empty streets and houses, you have to put in a lot of effort to make things different. Don't know if I would know how to do that in a foreign culture and geography.

Another by-product of imbalance between individualism and collectivism seems to be some loss of creativity. Although I must say that in Cuba, the embargo and other causes of shortages in many areas seem to have resulted in a lot of creativity.

If I understand Belli correctly, as well as my previous reading about the Cuban revolution, Belli seems shocked to find herself thinking that one of the mistakes made by the Ortega administration was too much freedom of speech, specifically freedom of press. She seems to think that Castro was perhaps more effective in his stronger control of the media, believing after the fact that this may be necessary for a new young government initially. I loved that the first thing both the Cuban and Nicaraguan revolutionary governments did was to focus on raising the literacy rates in their countries, because of their belief that an educated population was necessary. This is interesting and timely reading for me as a U.S. citizen watching the effects of Wikileaks, Edward Snowden, and Chelsea Manning. As the news continues to break of illegal U.S. government activity such as illegal war, bombing, imprisonment and torturing, how many U.S. citizens know about it, believe it, understand it, or attempt to learn more? My husband and I went to see the new Wikileaks movie The Fifth Estate on the day it opened. We were the only two people there, in this suburb of the capitol of California. I realize there can be many reasons for that and there are many differing opinions about Assange's actions and whether this movie is factual or not, but was still surprised at the lack of interest. But that's a different review.

I have noticed that other reviewers perceive Belli as narcissistic, grandiose and neglectful of her children. I have to say - nothing new there - studies show these tendencies are found in many if not most leaders and CEOs. Seems one would almost have to have ideas of grandiosity to think you might be able to pull off a revolution. Also, children of leaders often suffer from neglect and danger. I think here about the children of those who fought to free slaves in the U.S. and the children of U.S. civil rights leaders. The decision has to be made about whether your children will benefit most from remaining slaves or suffering the trauma of fighting for freedom. I have often thought about how my parenting might differ if instead of being white in the U.S., I was black. How would I tell my children to respond to being pulled over by police if I were a member of a group who experiences more police brutality. Watch the last scene of the movie Panther and tell me what you teach your children. There seems to me also to be an inordinate amount of sexism found when examining parenting by leaders. I don't often read criticism and accusations of family neglect by male leaders who spend their lives working. Although, I have heard those accusations about Gandhi. Undoubtedly Mandela's children felt abandoned while he was in prison. It is not a decision to be taken lightly or by those of little courage.

One last topic I found interesting was reading about the three factions of the revolutionary party in Nicaragua and the difficulties of dealing with their differences and working together, which was the only way to succeed with a revolution it seems. This is especially interesting reading in the light of current occurrences in Egypt and other countries experiencing revolution today.

So yes - a five star read for me. ( )
2 vote mkboylan | Oct 21, 2013 |
I absolutely love this book ... Gioconda Belli is the type of woman I aspire to be (okay, maybe without the affairs): strong, intelligent, committed to the cause of making her world a better place, and still completely feminine. This is a great book to read if you want an insider's perspective of the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua.

( )
  purplehena | Mar 31, 2013 |
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We fill the craters left by the bombs/ And once again we sing/ And once again we sow/ Because life never surrenders-------------anonymous Vietnamese poem
Dedication
this book is dedicated to Chepita, Alicia, Eda, Anita, Cristina, Maria Elsa, Nidia, Petrona; and most especially for Socorro Ruiz, Beatriz Mancilla, Dolores Ortega and all the women who helped me on the home front, and without whom neither this book nor the life I have led would have been possible. For my children, Maryam, Melissa, Camilo and Adriana. For Charlie.
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With each shot I fired my body shuddered, the impact reverberating through every last joint, leaving an unbearable ringing in my head, sharp and disturbing.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375403701, Hardcover)

An electrifying memoir from the acclaimed Nicaraguan writer (“A wonderfully free and original talent”—Harold Pinter) and central figure in the Sandinista Revolution.

Until her early twenties, Gioconda Belli inhabited an upper-class cocoon: sheltered from the poverty in Managua in a world of country clubs and debutante balls; educated abroad; early marriage and motherhood. But in 1970, everything changed. Her growing dissatisfaction with domestic life, and a blossoming awareness of the social inequities in Nicaragua, led her to join the Sandinistas, then a burgeoning but still hidden organization. She would be involved with them over the next twenty years at the highest, and often most dangerous, levels.

Her memoir is both a revelatory insider’s account of the Revolution and a vivid, intensely felt story about coming of age under extraordinary circumstances. Belli writes with both striking lyricism and candor about her personal and political lives: about her family, her children, the men in her life; about her poetry; about the dichotomies between her birth-right and the life she chose for herself; about the failures and triumphs of the Revolution; about her current life, divided between California (with her American husband and their children) and Nicaragua; and about her sustained and sustaining passion for her country and its people.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:25 -0400)

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Eloquent and eye opening insider's view of Nicaraguan revolution.

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