Originally published 24th May 2010
Gioconda Belli’s The Country Under My Skin is not an autobiography, but a biography of the political struggles of Nicaragua since the 1970s, embedded in a rich setting of personal accounts and strong emotions surrounding the changing country around her and her family.
Belli’s wonderful style of writing is itself explored, from tales of discovering her talent for writing while working in advertising before her political involvement. The poems she created and which created fame for her projected Belli into the strong involvement with the Sandinista guerrilla movement from a young age.
It is from here we see Belli’s real journey begin, breaking away from the life and security she has known and made for herself in the comfort of her husband and two daughters, she is presented with the opportunity to delve into who she really is and bring out the political passion buried deep inside of her.
The separation from her husband allows her to describe the struggles she is met with by her family, her father’s feelings of a young, divorced daughter in South America worries him and causes tensions throughout her life journey. This is added to by the awakening of Belli’s sexual energy, brought about by the liberation she finds in separations and for some time we are presented with a new character: one of fidelity and one of a laisez-faire attitude to marital commitments which provides the opportunity to turn readers away from the sympathy she otherwise deserves. Though an important chapter in her life, her sexual exploration creates a wave of confidence for Belli, and almost provides a sense of ability to conquer all men presented within her vicinity.
What we see from almost all of her relationships though, is her prioritised love for her country, which is very much what she feels Nicaragua to be. She describes her love for her surroundings as strongly as that for her children, and allows for the loss of love to continue her devotion and commitment to a country that desperately needs people of her calibre in order to move forwards.
One of the most remarkable things about Belli’s life is the motivation and strength she finds in the loss of so many close friends, lost to the cause. When many others would have broken down or come to a complete stand still, overcome with grief from constant death and suffering, Belli sees their deaths as reason to go on still, despite the risks she puts to herself and her children.
Such a writing ability is rarely seen in such an honest and open-hearted way. Belli shows courage throughout her life and writing, the most intimate details expressed in ways that express complete confidence in every decision she makes. The words Belli provides for us allow us not to gain an understanding of her emotions, especially at the highest and lowest points; the defeat of the Somosa government, the celebrations that followed, but utterly share them and feel the experiences for ourselves. One of the best written books I’ve read for some time.