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Novel set in Nicaragua (a glimpse of the landscape and the history of Nicaragua)

3rd October 2015

The Ladies of Managua by Eleni N Gage, novel set in  Nicaragua (and New Orleans).

IMG_1540When Maria Vasquez returns to Nicaragua to attend the funeral of her much loved grandfather, bringing a mysterious package for her grandmother, she steps straight back into the tensions that have always existed in her relationship with her mother, Ninexin, who had been a famous revolutionary, instrumental in helping to create the new Nicaragua. Maria has secrets and troubles of her own in the form of a reluctant-to-commit older boyfriend, who is so absorbed in his burgeoning career as an artist that he is barely aware of Maria’s existence.  In fact, invisibility seems to have been Maria’s fate for much of her life – her mother was too busy fighting and then rebuilding the country to have any time for her and her father died when she was a baby, gunned down in somewhat suspicious circumstances that are never explained to Maria.  The infant Maria was raised by her doting grandmother, Isabella, who nurses secrets of her own.  When Maria tried to ask questions about her father, all she is given is the rather enigmatic reply “Revolutionaries make bad husbands.”

This very well crafted novel has three narrators, the three ladies of the title, Maria, Ninexin and Isabella and the story moves between the three voices and time scales seemingly effortlessly, unfolding in a leisurely manner through these three different viewpoints.  The first half of the book is taken up with each woman’s private thoughts: Maria’s anxiety about her relationship and resentment of her mother; Ninexin’s guilt at her abandonment of her daughter; and Isabella’s obsession over a long-ago love affair.  The novel really leaps to life, however, when the secrets begin to be revealed, which coincides with the arrival of Maria’s boyfriend, Allen, who has come hot foot in pursuit of her.  Over the rest of the book, Maria gets some answers to her questions, particularly the one about revolutionaries making bad husbands.

It requires real skill on the part of a writer to create such different voices for each of the three characters, but surely the most beguiling has got to be Isabella as she takes us back to her girlhood in 1950’s New Orleans.  Gage tells us in her acknowledgements that the character is based on her husband’s grandmother and it’s easy to believe.  There is real truth in this character and in her story.  Isabella is fascinating and infuriating in equal measure, but you never tire of hearing her talk, particularly when she is addressing and putting in his place the rather hapless Allen.

I loved this book, loved the glimpse into such different and differing lives, but what is perhaps best of all about it is the view it gives you of the landscape and the history of Nicaragua, both past and present.  Nicaragua, I am told, is one of the really up-and-coming travel destinations and, reading this novel, it isn’t hard to see why.

Ellen for the TripFiction Team

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