cover image The Inhabited Woman

The Inhabited Woman

Gioconda Belli. Curbstone Press, $22.95 (412pp) ISBN 978-1-880684-17-7

The politics of Latin American revolution offer a worthy subject here, but Nicaraguan-born poet Belli seldom rises to the challenge. Lavinia, an independent young woman of privileged background, takes a job as an architect as a means of supporting herself and her newly inherited home. Entering into a romantic relationship with Felipe, a fellow architect given to mysterious absences, she soon discovers his secret: he is a member of the National Liberation Movement, a group dedicated to freeing their imaginary Latin American country from an oppressive dictator. Encouraged by the Movement's nurse, Lavinia becomes progressively more involved in the budding revolution until finally, after Felipe dies, she decides to take his place in a military operation. Intended to chronicle Lavinia's awakening political consciousness, the novel never rises above the level of propaganda, as oppressors and oppressed alike are portrayed as mere stereotypes of good and evil. A touch of magical realism, in the character of an Indian woman who fought the conquistadores and whose spirit now inhabits a tree outside Lavinia's house, ultimately adds little to a disappointing treatment of a topic that deserves better novelistic exploration. (July)