ZONE OF FIRE by Conrad Detrez


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Here, in a posthumous novel from Belgian writer Detrez (A Weed for Burning), we get impressions of pre-revolutionary Nicaragua from the point of view of a young French explorer. The narrator (Detrez himself?) uses the second-person voice to tell this ""truelife"" story. He comes to Nicaragua (sometime before the 1979 revolution) because he is fascinated by volcanoes and the country boasts 33 of them. (Managua was built on a fault line, a ""zone of fire."") Yet soon enough the volcanoes become ""mere objects of nostalgia"" as the narrator's curiosity is drawn to the armed struggle, and also to the fortunes of one man and his family. Abel is a fellow-boarder at his Managua pension, a young homosexual driven out by his father, converted to socialism by the vision of ""a great egalitarian pigsty."" His macho brother Alvaro is in the hills with the Sandinistas. Both men are wounded, Abel in a demo outside the prison as revolutionary fervor spreads to the cities; a Texan advisor on torture techniques is gunned down, and all the pension boarders are pulled in for questioning. The narrator is advised to leave pronto, but stays on, ""addicted"" to the unfolding drama. Meanwhile, Abel's nonpolitical lover Chino has joined Somoza's Guard, but the two continue to meet clandestinely; they are discovered by the homophobic Alvaro, who shoots his brother dead and then, expelled from the movement, kills a Somoza colonel in a kamikaze attack. In 1983 the narrator returns briefly to Managua, still in upheaval as everybody ""Sandinizes""--but not Chino, now a family man and volcano guide. Numerous roadblocks prevent reader involvement in this mishmash of private fears and public convulsions: desultory narrative, hard-to-follow chronology, and a narrator who cannot get a handle on his material or even decide on the extent of his own role.

Pub Date: Oct. 21st, 1986
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich