"The Country Under My Skin" is a courageous autobiography--a deeply personal "Memoir of Love and War." The author, Gioconda Belli, is a famous Latin American poet and Sandinista revolutionary.
This memoir can be read on three levels.
For those who love revolutionary or social history, Belli's memoir gives a unique female insider's perspective on the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. Many past reviewers, apparently men, seem to approach this book with this historical dimension squarely in focus. Understandably, some are disappointed by the unusual female perspective. However, as a woman, I was overjoyed to find a dangerous real life story of revolution from a woman's point of view.
"I stole across the room to open the door of my daughters' room. I stood there for what must have been a long time, watching their peaceful faces as they slept in their orange-colored beds. Melissa with her pacifier and Maryam with her arms wide open. If only I could take them back into my womb to shelter them. I wanted a womb to hide in with them, the warm safety of the amniotic fluid. At least Nicaragua wasn't like Argentina, or Chile, where the dictatorships tortured and killed children along with their parents. I didn't fear for their lives--what I feared was the idea of them being left all alone. Did I have any right, as a mother, to take such risks?...But my fate was sealed. Inside of me there wasn't the slightest impulse to turn back. A threat like this, in fact, had the opposite effect: it fed the rage I felt for the dictatorship, for a system against which we, the citizens, had no form of defense...Then and there, I vowed to myself that I wouldn't allow fear to turn me into a passive observer of all the ills and injustices that surrounded me" (p. 77-78).
For those who love romance, Belli's book is overflowing with deep, heart-felt emotion--passion for country, passion for life, passion for children, passion for family, passion for community, passion for cause, and naturally, passion for the many powerful and famous revoluntionary men in her life. She reveals in heart-wrenching clarity how her lovers possessed her, and failed her, and how she idealized them, and failed them.
"So we kissed, gasping with so much want as we had been painfully holding up. But when he tried to go after my shirt, my skirt, I stopped his hands. I buried by head on his chest, hushing him, telling him it would be better if we tried to stay put. Let's not go any further, I said. You better talk to me, talk to me about what you've been doing. My heart was beating fast and hard, and a fire from hell was burning my cheeks" (p. 200).
For those who love to analyze the inner psychological workings of a human life, Belli's book is an intensely revealing coming of age saga--here, Belli's purpose is clearly not to glorify, but rather, through the act of writing, to discover and comes to terms with the woman she is today. For this reader, it became very clear that Belli is one of those glorious persons of rare artistic temperament who is "Touched with Fire" (see Kay Redfield Jamison's book by the same title). As I read this book, I ached for Belli's pain, and felt my heart soar with her joy and courage.
"To me, poetry was a gift. It was water flowing from a spring within me, that channeled onto the page, effortlessly. I also thought of it as energy produced by an unseen organ in my body--a sensory antenna, perhaps, that would capture aromas, feelings, sensations, and every so often would release a flash of illunimation. If I had paper, pen, and silence at hand when the first verse broke into my consciousness, that thunderbolt would ignite a poem" (p. 182).
"I wrote. I wrote poems of love and songs of desperation. I became so depressed that some days I couldn't get out of bed" (p. 290).
"I didn't know how to be alone. I had exposed myself to bullets, death; I had smuggled weapons, given speeches, received awards, had children--so many things, but a life without men, without love, was alien to me, I felt I had no existence unless a man's voice said my name and a man's love rendered my life worthwile. It was not a question of denying men a role in my life, but I was determined to stop being emotionally dependent on them. I forced myself to examine my vulnerabilities: I had filled a raw emotional void, tried to make up for affection I had lacked, by asserting myself and my femininity mostly though my sexuality and my powers of seduction, ignoring and underestimating my other gifts. I thought nothing of my tenacity, or my optimism...I also understood that I loved my children, but only as reflections, only in two dimensions, as if they were just simple, sweet creatures, and I could not see that below the surface they too had fears, complexities" (p. 290).
It was so easy to love this book. "The Country Under My Skin" is well-crafted, often poetic, and reads better than most novels. When I finished it, I felt a deep emotional bond with Belli. What a courageous and beautiful soul she is!