THE JAGUAR SMILE
A Nicaraguan Journey
The noted British novelist (Shame, Midnight's Children) reports on a recent visit to Nicaragua. Rushdie came to the country with a basically anti-American point of view, objecting to the "dirty tricks" of the Reagan government which, as he duly quotes Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, are looked upon as "worse than Hitler." Rushdie's lack of sympathy with Americans extends to a clumsy attempt to capture American dialogue, speckled with "reckons" and similar clichés, surprisingly maladroit for so accomplished a writer. However, this brief but telling account does not idealize the Sandinistas either. Where they show ignorance or naiveté, it is commented upon, such as when an interpreter finds it impossible to believe that forced labor camps exist in the Soviet Union, or when Cultural Minister Ernesto Cardenal refuses to ackowledge any human-rights violations against writers and homosexuals in Castro's Cuba. Although obviously not a reporter by temperament, Rushdie does a diligent journalistic job of seeing the country, even visiting the hospitals full of young casualties of the fight against the contras. Most of this closely argued little book is appealing for its sympathy with this troubled country, where most politicians are poets: Ortega says that "everybody is considered to be a poet until he proves to the contrary." Another poet of Nicaraguan history, trapped by Somoza and ordered to surrender, responded with the memorable line, "let your mother surrender!" But ultimately the unanswered anti-American bias here will gall.