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Living Like the Saints:
A Novel of Nicaragua

Living Like the Saints:
A Novel of Nicaragua

by Liston Pope Jr.
N.A. Gilbert & Sons, New York, 1996

Available at leftbooks.com

“Dramatic intimate group of Nicaraguan people during the Sandinista rebellion. Almost every major characters fascinates. Powerful writing about dreams, hardships, victories of plain people.”

Publishers Weekly

Review by Deirdre Griswold
Workers World

Considering the great dramatic content of revolutions, it is remarkable that so few novels have been written about them. There can be no other explanation than the tremendous counter-revolutionary pressure under which Western capitalist culture is warped and stultified.

Even the French Revolution — a great social overturn, but one that went no further than establishing a bourgeois republic — gets more knocks than praise in European literature, most notably in Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. The promise of its memorable opening sentence — “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” — is frittered away on a plot shackled to the British bourgeoisie’s compromise with monarchy.

The best-known novel about the U.S. Civil War — the closest thing to a social revolution in this country, although it fell short of real emancipation of Black people — was the thoroughly reactionary and racist Gone With the Wind.

It is a joy, then, to pick up a book with the somewhat unlikely title of Living Like the Saints and find that it is a beautifully written narrative about the Nicaraguan Revolution. Liston Pope lived in Nicaragua for several years in the 1980s. He dedicates the book to Nora Astorga, the guerrilla fighter whose daring exploits especially thrilled women, and who survived Somoza’s prisons only to die of cancer not long after the revolution.

There are well-drawn central characters in this book, whose lives of struggle and sacrifice should move even the most blase North American reader. Pope portrays with tenderness and love those who never lost hope but persisted in their resistance to the gut-wrenching ferocity of the Somoza dictatorship. He deftly weaves in the connections between the state, the oligarchy and their patrons in Washington.

But surrounding the central characters is an aroused multitude. The story focuses on insurrections in the city of Masaya, a hotbed of Sandinista sentiment and organization. The battles are a neighborhood affair. Everyone knows who to turn to, how to pitch in and help the experienced guerrilla fighters, who occasionally filter into the city and as mysteriously disappear again.

Many of the heroes are children, including the unforgettable character of Alma, who takes up the cause when her brother, a revolutionary poet, is snatched up by Somoza’s National Guard for imprisonment and sure torture.

The title indicates that Liston wrote largely for religious progressives inspired by the Central American revolutions and liberation theology. But he is not a compromiser and does not spare reactionaries in the church. His depiction of the role of the leading priest in the city — based on a true character — will surprise you.

The Nicaraguan Revolution was one of the casualties of the tide of reaction that swept over the world in the 1980s. While there’s no question that the people had fought for the same kind of profound restructuring of society achieved by the Cuban Revolution, the Sandinistas got rid of Somoza but were never able to uproot the bourgeoisie. The rich and privileged kept up a constant sabotage of the revolution from within, aided by U.S. imperialism from without.

All the more reason not to forget the tremendous struggles and victories of the revolutionary period. Pope’s book makes them come alive with passion, wit and humor.

Living Like the Saints is also available directly from the author:

Liston Pope Jr.
P.O. Box 237132
New York, NY  10023-3031

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