Written over the course of seven years and in many locales in Latin America and Europe, the poems in Cantos de vida y esperanza reflect both Darío’s anguished sense of modern life and his ecstatic visions of transcendence, freedom, and the transformative power of art. They reveal Darío’s familiarity with Spanish, French, and English literature and the wide range of his concerns—existential, religious, erotic, and socio-political. Derusha and Acereda’s translation renders Darío’s themes with meticulous clarity and captures the structural and acoustic dimensions of the poet’s language in all its rhythmic sonority. Their introduction places this singular poet—arguably the greatest to emerge from Latin America in modern literature—and his best and most widely known work in historical and literary context. An extensive glossary offers additional information, explaining terms related to modernismo, Hispanic history, mythological allusions, and artists and writers prominent at the turn of the last century.
The book begins by describing the people, geography, culture, and current political, economic, and social systems of Nicaragua. The remainder of the volume is devoted to a chronological history, emphasizing recurring themes or factors that have shaped the modern state. These include the importance of elite families such as the Somoza dynasty that ruled for more than 40 years. Other topics include the agro-export model of economic development, modern Nicaraguan nationalism, the Sandinista revolution and its legacy, and the democratic transition that began in 1990.
Gobat focuses primarily on the reactions of the elites to Americanization, because the power and identity of these Nicaraguans were the most significantly affected by U.S. imperial rule. He describes their adoption of aspects of “the American way of life” in the mid–nineteenth century as strategic rather than wholesale. Chronicling the U.S. occupation of 1912–33, he argues that the anti-American turn of Nicaragua’s most Americanized oligarchs stemmed largely from the efforts of U.S. bankers, marines, and missionaries to spread their own version of the American dream. In part, the oligarchs’ reversal reflected their anguish over the 1920s rise of Protestantism, the “modern woman,” and other “vices of modernity” emanating from the United States. But it also responded to the unintended ways that U.S. modernization efforts enabled peasants to weaken landlord power. Gobat demonstrates that the U.S. occupation so profoundly affected Nicaragua that it helped engender the Sandino Rebellion of 1927–33, the Somoza dictatorship of 1936–79, and the Sandinista Revolution of 1979–90.
During a year's work (1985-1986) at the Instituto Centroamericano de Administración de Empresas (INCAE), Forrest Colburn purchased a dilapidated car—and with it an introduction to everyday life in Nicaragua. His discoveries of the length of time required to register the car (approximately six weeks), the impossibility of finding spare parts (except when U.S. dollars were applied to the search), and the fact that "anyone getting into a car in Managua can be charged a small fee [for car watching] by anyone else" all suggest the difficulties most Nicaraguans faced living in a devastated economy.
Drawing on experiences from visits throughout the revolutionary period (1979-1989), Colburn also sheds light on how the Revolution affected social customs and language, gender roles and family relationships, equality and authority, the availability of goods and services, the status of ethnic minorities, and governmental and other institutions. Illustrations by Nicaragua's celebrated political cartoonist Róger Sánchez Flores enliven the lucid text.