- Where to Go
- The Best of Nicaragua
- Nicaragua’s Best Surfing
- Hiking Nicaragua’s Ring of Fire
- Nicaraguan Arts & Crafts
- Nicaragua’s Great Green North
- Sportfishing in Nicaragua
- Down the Río San Juan
- Nicaragua’s Celebrations & Fiestas
- Volunteering in Nicaragua
- Diving & Snorkeling in Nicaragua
- Managua’s Revolutionary Driving Tour
A prodigious amount of literature emerged from the Sandinista years, when Nicaragua was the setting of the hemisphere’s most celebrated—and criticized—socialist experiment of the century. You’ll find more titles on Nicaragua in the used-book section than you will on the new releases shelf. Following is an extremely eclectic (and incomplete) list of your options.
Sirias, Silvio. Bernardo and the Virgin. Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 2005. Bernardo’s real-life texture and ingenious use of voices and characters portrays a thick slice of Nicaragua’s past and present while recounting the true story of the Virgin Mary’s appearances to a campesino in Cuapa.
Sirias, Silvio. Meet Me Under the Ceiba. Houston, TX: Arte Publico Press, 2009. Sirias’s second novel is also set in small-town Nicaragua and continues the vibrant cultural portrait he began in Bernardo. It is based on a 1998 hate-crime murder in La Curva and addresses many issues, including homophobia and gay rights in Latin America. The narrator explains the story’s importance: “Adela Rugama’s murder is a chilling story. It’s a sobering portrait of human frailty, of what can happen when we allow our weaknesses, our emotional flaws, to take control of our actions.”
Nonfiction and Memoir
Babb, Florence. After Revolution: Mapping Gender and Cultural Politics in Neoliberal Nicaragua. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 2001. Professor of Anthropology and Women’s Studies at the University of Iowa, Babb has also published scores of academic papers on Nicaragua, mainly on issues of gender and sexuality.
Barrios de Chamorro, Violeta. Dreams of the Heart. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. A very human history of Nicaragua from the Somoza years through Doña Violeta’s electoral triumph in 1990 (she served as Nicaragua’s president in the early 1990s).
Belli, Gioconda. The Country Under My Skin: A Memoir of Love and War. New York: Anchor Books, 2003. This is a phenomenal book that provides a close-up look at various stages of la lucha (the struggle), written by one of the country’s premier living poets. Stephen Kinzer writes, “Belli’s memoir shows us a side of the Sandinista revolution we have not seen. It also introduces us to an astute veteran of two eternal wars, one between the sexes and one that pits the world’s poor against its rich.”
Cabezas, Omar. Fire from the Mountain (La Montaña es Algo Más que una Grán Estapa Verde). Phoenix, AZ: Crown, 1985. A ribald, vernacular account of what it’s like to be a guerrilla soldier in the mountains of Nicaragua; one of the few books about the early stages of the revolution.
Cardenal, Ernesto; Walsh, Donald D. (translator). The Gospel in Solentiname. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1979. Transcripts of the masses given by Cardenal on Solentiname that helped spawn the Misa Campesina and liberation theology movements.
Chomsky, Noam. Turning the Tide: U.S. Intervention in Central America and the Struggle for Peace. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 1985. Succinctly and powerfully shows how U.S. Central American policies implement broader U.S. economic, military, and social aims, with Nicaragua and El Salvador as examples.
Dando-Collins, Stephen. Tycoon’s War: How Cornelius Vanderbilt Invaded a Country to Overthrow America’s Most Famous Military Adventurer. Philadelphia: Da Capo Press, 2008. This account of one of Nicaragua’s most fascinating historical periods (the mid-19th century) is painstakingly researched and told in an exciting narrative. Dando-Collins weaves the stories of Vanderbilt and William Walker with a striking degree of detail. The Wall Street Journal said this book “reads . . . [like a] screenplay treatment for a hell of a movie.”
Davis, Peter. Where is Nicaragua? New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987. Davis breaks down the revolution and Contra war, and ties them into the country’s greater history; he articulates the complexity of the situation in a graspable manner.
Dickey, Christopher. With the Contras. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985. Dickey was the Washington Post correspondent in Honduras and gives an exciting account of his experience with the secret Contra army.
Kinzer, Stephen. Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1991. Kinzer, the New York Times Managua bureau chief during the war, sensed that Nicaragua was “a country with more to tell the world than it had been able to articulate, a country with a message both political and spiritual.”
Lancaster, Roger N. Life Is Hard: Machismo, Danger, and the Intimacy of Power in Nicaragua. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992. Lancaster is an anthropologist and this is an ethnography studying not current events, but their effect on the Nicaraguan individual and family. It is intimate and offers details about Nicaraguan life that one can only get living with the people in their very homes. Lancaster pays attention to issues often passed over, like homosexuality, domestic violence, broken families, and the roots of machismo.
Marriot, Edward. Savage Shore: Life and Death with Nicaragua's Last Shark Hunters. New York: Owl Books, 2001. A curious and descriptive journey up the Río San Juan and beyond.
Pastor, Robert. Not Condemned To Repetition: The United States and Nicaragua. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2002. Robert Pastor was a U.S. policymaker in the period leading up to and following the Sandinista revolution of 1979. A decade later, he organized the International Mission led by Jimmy Carter that mediated the first free election in Nicaragua’s history. This updated edition covers the events of the democratic transition of the 1990s and extracts lessons to be learned from the past.
Randall, Margaret. Sandino’s Daughters: Testimonies of Nicaraguan Women in Struggle. Point Roberts, WA: New Star Books, 1981. Explores the role of feminism in the Sandinista revolution, via a series of interviews with participants.
Rushdie, Salman. The Jaguar Smile. New York: Viking, 1987. Representing the pro-Sandinista Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign in London, Rushdie takes readers on a poetic, passionate jaunt through Nicaragua as part of a government cultural campaign; he offers a careful (if short) examination of their policies.
Squier, Ephraim George. Nicaragua: Its People, Scenery, Monuments, and the Proposed Interoceanic Canal. New York: D. Appleton, 1852. Squier remains one of Nicaragua’s most prolific writers; this massive, multivolume tome is available for hundreds of dollars in rare bookstores. The discussion is divided into five parts in which he describes geography and topography; the events during the author’s residence, including accounts of his explorations; observations on the proposed canal; notes on the indigenous of the country, including information regarding geographical distribution, languages, institutions, religions, and customs; and the political history of the country since its independence from Spain.
Volz, Eric. Gringo Nightmare: A Young American Framed for Murder in Nicaragua. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2010. It is definitely every traveler’s worst nightmare to end up in a filthy Third World prison, but Volz’s case goes way beyond his cramped cell, and it is also much greater than the volatile social conditions in San Juan del Sur that helped lead to his arrest. This is a harrowing tale by any account, and proof that Nicaragua is not “the next Costa Rica.” Not by a long shot. One reviewer remarked, “This story should be issued with every passport” (Bill Kurtis, A&E).
Zimmerman, Matilde. Sandinista: Carlos Fonseca and the Nicaraguan Revolution. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001. This is the first English-language biography of the legendary leader of the FSLN and arguably the most important and influential figure of the post-1959 revolutionary generation in Latin America.
Belli, Alejandro et al. The Nicaraguans. Managua, 2006. One of the best photography book about Nicaragua. Period. Go to www.thenicaraguans.com to learn more about this stunning collection of images celebrating the people of the country. In the foreword, Sergio Ramírez Mercado writes, “these photographs, taken by Nicaraguans observing other Nicaraguans who are simply getting through the day, reveal the multi-faceted face of peace, which today also embodies our identity.”
Gentile, William Frank. Nicaragua: Photographs by William Frank Gentile New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1989. These are some of the deepest, most powerful photos you’ll ever see, with fantastic juxtapositions of Contra and FSLN soldiers.
Kunzle, David. The Murals of Revolutionary Nicaragua 1979–1992. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. Many murals were strictly political, but most intertwined the revolutionary process with cultural, historical, and literary themes. All are celebrated in Kunzle’s book; 83-page introduction and 100 color plates.
Meiselas, Susan. Nicaragua New York: Aperture, 2008. Originally published in 1981 to document both the carnage and hope of the year leading up to the Revolution, this book includes some of the most iconic images of the period. This new edition comes with a DVD called “Pictures from a Revolution,” in which the photographer returns to the scenes and subjects of her famous photographs.
Poetry, Language, and Literature
Morelli, Marco, ed. Rubén’s Orphans. New Hyde Park, NY: Painted Rooster Press, 2001. An anthology of contemporary Nicaraguan poets, with English translations.
Rabella, Joaquim and Pallais, C. Vocabulario Popular Nicaragüense. This big, red linguistic bible is a wonderful dictionary celebrating Nicaraguan Spanish, complete with regional usages, sayings, and a plethora of profanities; available (hopefully) in the UCA bookstores in Managua.
Randall, Margaret. Risking a Somersault in the Air: Conversations with Nicaraguan Writers. San Francisco: Solidarity Publications, 1984. Just as much about literature as it is about the revolution, this is a fascinating series of interviews with Nicaraguan authors and poets, most of whom were part of the FSLN revolution and government.
White, Steven, trans. Poets of Nicaragua: A Bilingual Anthology 1918–1970. London: Unicorn Press, 1983.
Hulme, Krekel, and O’Reilly. Not Just Another Nicaragua Travel Guide. Redwood, CA: Mango Publications, 1990. An ebullient and fascinating guidebook for traveling Sandinista Nicaragua in the 1980s. Get it if you can find it; only 1,000 copies were printed.
© Randall Wood & Joshua Berman from Moon Nicaragua, 4th Edition