Nicaragua and the Politics of Utopia: Development and Culture in the Modern State

In This Review

Nicaragua and the Politics of Utopia: Development and Culture in the Modern State
by Daniel Chávez
Vanderbilt University Press, 2015
376 pp.
Purchase

For a small country, Nicaragua has produced a remarkable literary and poetic tradition, one steeped in utopian politics. As the country’s most famous poet, Rubén Darío, famously remarked, “If small is the homeland, one dreams it great.” In his highly original book, Chávez seeks the literary and philosophical roots of three very different Nicaraguan regimes: the modernizing, authoritarian Somoza dictatorship (1937–79), the agrarian-socialist Sandinista revolution (1979–90), and the neoliberal capitalism of the post-Sandinista era (1990–2006). All three regimes were “utopian” in that their legitimizing rhetoric and imagery contained contradictory elements that were impossible to reconcile or fully realize and that obscured their less savory characteristics. Chávez carefully dissects official speeches and constitutional texts and expertly elucidates their literary and discursive origins. His critiques of two outstanding contemporary writers, Sergio Ramírez and Gioconda Belli, are especially well drawn, as he guides readers from their early anti-Somoza mythological stories and poems to their subsequent writings on political disillusionment. But Chávez is no cynic: on the contrary, he asserts that the drive to imagine a better, more hopeful future is profoundly and gloriously human.