A humanized illumination of the challenges facing developing countries as climate change accelerates the race to the bottom.
There are no easy answers for the two extended families who are the subject of Haynes’ (English/Univ. of Wisconsin, Oshkosh) deeply intensive reporting, but, as the title suggests, there is no hopeless defeatism either. They may live from flood to drought, from earthquake to earthquake, and from slum to overcrowded evacuation center, but family relationships, personal responsibility, and hope that education brings their children a better future keep them afloat. The author began his personal journey to this story as a high school student writing a newspaper story criticizing American policy in Central America. His subsequent experience is as an essayist and poet who teaches writing rather than as a scientist or political scientist, though he refers to those disciplines in extending his own theses. Haynes traces the lives of two families who have left the Nicaraguan countryside to fend for themselves in urban, impoverished Managua, a city that is perennially under the threat of destruction from earthquakes and flooding, where the shantytown called The Widows sits on Lake Managua, which one scientist calls “the world’s biggest toilet.” With basic subsistence such a challenge, the narrative, often in the present tense, depicts marriages that collapse under pressure, children who suffer and die, epidemics of dengue fever and alcoholism alike. But the author also shows an indomitable human spirit and resilience in the face of long odds and no safety net. He tells the story of these people in their singularity but also what it augurs for a developing world that has seen “a meteoric mass migration that made Latin America the most urbanized region in the world, as well as the most unequal,” amid U.N. predictions “that, by 2050, three billion people might live in shantytowns and favelas—almost half of the world’s projected urban population.”
A potent book that gives faces and voices to trends that are too often reduced to cold statistics and academic analyses.