THE NATION THIEF by Robert Houston


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A fictionalization, told in the contrapuntal voices of several participants, of William Walker's ""conquest"" of Nicaragua in 1855--a quixotic adventure by this American surgeon and reformer (with the help of a bunch of San Francisco ex-cons and mercenaries) which, amazingly enough, resoundingly succeeded for a time. Walker came to take Nicaragua away from its corrupt leader, to free its Indians, even to wrest from Commodore Vanderbilt his crucial Transit Route from sea to sea (precursor of the Panama Canal). Once successful, Walker refuses the presidency, seems to reintegrate the social structure of the land; and only when Vanderbilt's mercantile interests have been irritated beyond the point of endurance is Walker crushed. Walker himself contributes to his downfall, we hear and see, by his megalomania (he thinks and writes of himself in the third person); his instincts are politically graceful one moment, self-destructive the next. (He burns down his own capital city to prevent its capture, which was less than inevitable.) And the history of this little-remembered and odd affair is fascinating. But Houston handles it as fiction with tired formulas--the disparate testimonies, the gallery of differing types of people involved--which cut no deeper, psychologically, than the old You Are There approach to the past. Yeomanly historical recreation, but textureless, without the firm shape and viewpoint that made Houston's Bisbee '17 (1979) such a distinctive reconstruction.

Pub Date: Jan. 30th, 1983
Publisher: Pantheon