Saturday, January 07, 2017

Nicaragua: Infinity in the Palm of Her Hand, by Gioconda Belli

When I discovered Ann Morgan's project, in which she read a book from every country in the world in the space of a year, I had already embarked on my world reading project. I found her list both a help and a hindrance - a help in locating books for hard to find countries, and a hindrance because I kept feeling obliged to find "something else" as I didn't just want to make my way through someone else's reading list.

For Nicaragua, however, I thought I had found Gioconda Belli all on my own - and then found I had ordered the exact same book that Ann Morgan had chosen - a retelling of the Biblical Adam and Eve story, in which the author imagines them adapting to the difficulties of life outside Paradise, and mortality. It is a rich and satisfyingly imagined tale, which introduces us to Adam and Eve, their sons Cain and Abel, and daughters Lululwa and Aklia, each the twin to one of the brothers.

There is a full review on Ann's blog, which reflects my opinions fairly accurately. Like Ann, I found one or two incidents where Adam and Eve just happened to find what they needed lying around, a bit far fetched. Were we to believe that God had relented slightly on his punishment, and made it slightly easier for them at first? Also, I didn't quite understand the fate of Aklia. This may or may not reflect the apocryphal tale of Adam and Eve that the author was working from (a book that she found in her father-in-law's extensive library). I had not previously come across the two girls Lululwa and Aklia, but had come across mention of a third son, Seth (who is missing from this account). My final quibble was that I felt that Adam and Eve fell rather too neatly into traditional gender stereotypes at times, although Eve's personality was by no means passive. Despite these points, I found the book thoroughly absorbing. The descriptive passages no doubt reflect the fact that the author is an accomplished poet.

Gioconda Belli was born in 1948 in Managua, Nicaragua. Though educated by nuns and moving in society, in her twenties she joined the revolutionary Sandinistas and became a leader in the underground resistance. Her autobiography, "The Country Under My Skin", is also available in English, and is high on my "to read" list.

Infinity in the Palm of Her Hand (the title comes from a William Blake poem) is translated into English by Margaret Sayers Peden and published by Harper Collins. It won the 2008 Biblioteca Breve Prize and also the Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz Prize in the same year.

No comments: