The Jaguar Child (Rushdie)

I chose this book because I was in high school during Reagan’s support for the Contras, and I didn’t pay enough attention to the details. My instincts were distinctively anti-Reagan and I let the Washington Post, with its competing headlines about problems with the Reagan and Barry administrations, do my thinking for me.

After this short book (137 pages), I can say that I think I understand things in broad strokes now. I certainly couldn’t give you a more current update. But I don’t think Rushdie was seeking to write an informative text, as much as he was trying to write about what was behind the headlines, what the real Nicaraguan life was like. Perhaps this paragraph explains –

‘History,’ in Veronica Wedgwood’s phrase, ‘is lived forward but it is written in retrospect.’ To live in the real world was to act without knowing the end. The act of living a real life differed, I mused, from the act of making a fictional one, too, because you were stuck with your mistakes. No revisions, no second drafts. To visit Nicaragua was to be shown that the world was not television, or history, or fiction. The world was real, and this was its actual, unmediated reality.

As I’ve come to expect from Rushdie, there’s a fair amount of Rushdie in the narrative. His concern about the censorship of a newspaper is overplayed, but, to be fair, he still seems hopeful about the Sandanistas. He seems a bit miffed, too, in the end, that he was the one asking all of the questions and that few questions were asked of him. Here he’s unkind, suggesting that the Nicaraguans have a limited view of the world (reflected, in part, in the poor coverage given to international affairs by the surviving newspapers) and only outsiders “knew that other perspectives existed [because they] had seen the view from elsewhere.” These final words ring hollow. At the same time that Rushdie acknowledges the privilege inherent in the North American / Western point of view, he overlooks that this privilege has allowed him to travel, something the Nicaraguans he’s reported on and interacted with, have little opportunity to do.


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