In her debut work, Araguti recalls her childhood in Nicaragua against the backdrop of the country’s revolutionary war.
Born in 1973, Ileana entered the world when the Nicaraguan revolutionary war raged. The last of eight children, she was “raised by a sobbing mother, a womanizer father, unyielding school nuns, and a tantalizing landscape filled with landmines and grenades camouflaged between the canopies of cloud forests and humid soil.” Like her father, she felt most at home on the family farm in the cloud forest, with its “toucans, elusive quetzals, ocelots, macaws…perfumed by vibrant frangipanis, stubborn ferns and humid moss.” Her mother, “a dedicated teacher who taught Papa how to read and calculate,” insisted on returning to town for the school year, where Ileana is taught manners and ladylike etiquette—“NO TREE CLIMBING!” Still, summers on the farm were paradise—until the revolution intensified, with the family enduring bombings and other horrors. In a particularly traumatic episode, Ileana witnessed a man being shot to death right in front of her. Two brothers finally left for the U.S. to escape war and the draft; Araguti, then a young teenager suffering from some kind of stress disorder, joined them along with her mother. Araguti colorfully portrays the richness of all she loves about Nicaragua, from animals, birds, plants, folklore and customs to the delicious meals. Her memoir includes photographs and several recipes with instructions: “14. Eat without utensils! 15. Enjoy!” The story feels somewhat skimpy, however, perhaps since the title suggests an even more harrowing experience. Araguti, with her fairly affluent family and protective mother, isn’t a “war child” in the same sense as, say, Emmanuel Jal. Title aside, more attention to Araguti’s experiences adjusting to America would have added an interesting, more matured perspective, and the book could also use an editorial cleanup and some narrative tightening as well.
Wonderfully evokes Nicaragua’s enchanting beauty and the enormity of its loss.