Chronicle of the chaotic year during which two-time Pushcart Prize–winning author Unferth (English/Wesleyan Univ.; Vacation, 2008, etc.) and her then-boyfriend went from being college coeds to aspiring communist revolutionaries in Central America.
The author recounts the highly unusual journey on which she embarked in 1987. With little more than $2,000 and a bottle of malaria pills, Unferth and her idealistic boyfriend George traversed Central America via buses, from Mexico down to Panama. They had hoped to join the Sandinistas and procure “revolution jobs,” but “it turned out that few people wanted to hire us and if they did, they almost immediately fired us.” Inspired by George, whose inability to deny anyone’s request for money left the couple in a perpetual state of poverty and hunger, Unferth converted from an “atheist Jew” to a “Calvinish-Marxist-Kierkegaardian Christian.” Among the many misadventures that ensued, highlights include stints at a dysfunctional Salvadoran orphanage and a nearby brothel, followed, months later, by their inadvertent participation in an enormous protest against Noriega’s military dictatorship in Panama. The chaste couple, who got engaged on the trip despite Unferth’s mounting doubts about their shared future, struggled with nagging money and visa issues, and were robbed repeatedly, including at knifepoint. After living on a paltry diet consisting mainly of bread, Unferth’s belly grew distended. She also suffered from dysentery, insects that burrowed beneath her skin and a slew of other health problems, all of which she describes in uncomfortably graphic detail. “Mostly,” she writes, “I did not have fun.” Fortunately, Unferth writes with a sly, understated appreciation for the absurd. Though the relationship didn't stick and the author returned to the Midwest, the memories of the trip inspired her earlier writing, subsequent trips to Nicaragua and a private detective–aided search for George.
A dryly humorous memoir of love, travel and wide-eyed idealism.