Monday, June 9, 2014

Mining Memory: Sergio Ramírez' Adiós Muchachos

In Adiós Muchachos:  A Memoir of the Sandinista Revolution (Alfaguara 2007, Duke 2012 English) Sergio Ramírez tells his personal experience of the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua.  At the same time Adiós Muchachos does not escape the philosophical and theoretical challenges of memory, history and imagination that emerge in standard testimonials such as I, Rigoberta Menchú.  As a “memoir” it naturally tells a very subjective story about the past and Ramírez also admits in the preface that Adiós muchachos was published twenty years after the 1979 triumph of the Sandinista Revolution.  The narrated events and the retelling of them emerge in two radically different political contexts; in the first he is a leading political actor and in the second he has separated from a Sandinismo that he sees as having radically parted ways with the original principles of the revolution (32). 

The story is told in a tone of disenchantment.  Ramírez describes haves and have-nots within Sandinismo and depicts many Sandinistas as capitalists that have used the party to make themselves wealthy and powerful (33, xiv).  He explains that while the revolution ousted the Somoza Dynasty and created a Democracy it fell short of ending backwardness, poverty and marginalization (7).  Ramírez describes the failure of the revolution in terms of the allegory of David (Nicaragua) and Goliath (U.S.); anti-imperialism was the most-profound expression of the Sandinista movement in the 70’s and 80’s (93).  However, “David’s slingshot ran out of stones shooting at Goliath’s head” (167).  His account is ultimately heart-breaking; he concludes that now half of the farms that were redistributed are back in the hands of their former owners and wealth is increasingly in the hands of a few (172).

Despite the disenchanted tone of Adiós muchachos and the critical distance from the original events and context, Ramírez presents the “memoir” as truth.  On the one hand he claims authority as an eyewitness: “I was there” (Ramírez 4).  Also, at various moments in the text, Ramírez explains an archival process of sifting through photographs, having conversations with key figures such as Jimmy Carter and Fidel Castro and reading his stash of old letters and documents that inform his narration of the past.  Additionally, as a central political actor, Ramírez explains his privileged access to many sensitive documents that he alludes to in the memoir: “In one of the offices in Somoza’s bunker, after the revolution’s triumph, we found color photographs of Laviana’s cadaver lying on the grass” (127).    

In leiu of a conclusion, I will end with a question, in what ways does Sergio Ramírez’ Adiós Muchachos “utilize history as a pretext/ pre-text for writing literature and mine memory as a resource for writing fiction” (Mackenbach, “Narrativas" 248)?

WJT Mitchell — Notes on Picture Theory

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