Book #6, The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey, Salman Rushdie

From its prologue: 

  “When the Reagan administration began its war against Nicaragua, I recognized a deeper affinity with that small country in a continent (Central America) upon which I had never set foot. I grew daily more interested in its affairs, because, after all, I was myself the child of a successful revolt against a great power, my consciousness the product of the triumph of the Indian revolution. It was perhaps also true that those of us who did not have our origins in the countries of the mighty West, or North, had something in common - not, certainly, anything as simplistic as a unified ‘third world’ outlook, but at least some knowledge of what weakness was like, some awareness of the view from underneath, and of how it felt to be there, on the bottom, looking up at the descending heel. I became a sponsor of the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign in London. I mention this to declare an interest; when I finally visited Nicaragua, in July 1986, I did not go as a wholly neutral observer. I was not a blank slate.” 

  Salman Rushdie is invigorating and trustworthy company. The chance to travel at his side during his three week trip to Nicaragua (“a portrait of a moment, no more, in the life of that beautiful, volcanic country… at a time that felt close to the fulcrum of history, a time when all things, all the possible futures, were still (just) in the balance)” only gives me reason to admire him all the more. And this was a perfect book, being told in bite-sized chapters, for me to read while in the process of moving. Also, it made me realize that, despite having never properly read Rushdie (or John Irving, see Book #5), that I was not quite “a blank slate” coming to either. Because in December, 1992, I attended a PEN benefit for Salman Rushdie (though no one in the audience knew he was going to be there, and apparently he himself hadn’t known for sure until 24 hours behorehand, such was the tight security surrounding him at the time of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s million-dollar-promise-of-eternity fatwa). What an incredible night that was - and two performances stand out in my memory: Bruce Cockburn playing three songs on acoustic guitar, accompanied only by a mobile of windchimes which he kicked at perfect moments - and John Irving, reading the opening pages of Midnight’s Children - which of course, hooked me on Salman Rushdie for life - though I still haven’t read Midnight’s Children for myself - which is just another reason for undertaking this 100-book mission.

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