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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

     

Margarita, How Beautiful the Sea

by
Sergio Ramírez


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Margarita, How Beautiful the Sea



Title: Margarita, How Beautiful the Sea
Author: Sergio Ramírez
Genre: Novel
Written: 1998 (Eng. 2008)
Length: 314 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Margarita, How Beautiful the Sea - US
Margarita, está linda la mar - US
Margarita, How Beautiful the Sea - UK
Margarita, How Beautiful the Sea - Canada
Margarita, How Beautiful the Sea - India
Margarita, está linda la mar - España
  • Spanish title: Margarita, está linda la mar
  • Translated by Michael B. Miller
  • Includes an extensive and useful List of Characters and a Glossary
  • With a Preface by Nick Caistor

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Our Assessment:

B+ : creative mix of fact and fiction

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 14/3/1999 Carlos Fuentes
World Lit. Today . Spring/2002 Edward Waters Hood


  From the Reviews:
  • "Ramirez’s novel is one more painful and absurdist look at Latin America’s orphan modernity -- la modernidad: ni mother ni dad. But it also makes us understand that the poet is there to reclaim the true present of Latin America, the place of memory and desire we call literature -- whereas the president’s present is as old as the yellowed pages of yesterday’s newspaper." - Carlos Fuentes, The Los Angeles Times

  • "(A) masterful literary triumph, one which contrasts and opposes the lives and deaths of two major figures in the history and popular imagination of the Nicaraguan people: the poet Ruben Dario and the dictator Anastasio Somoza Garcia. The relationship between history and literature is nurtured throughout the text." - Edward Waters Hood, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Margarita, How Beautiful the Sea is centered around two of the most significant Nicaraguan figures of the first half of the twentieth century, the great poet Rubén Darío and the dictatorial (and dynasty-founding) Anastasio Somoza, president of Nicaragua from 1947 until his assassination in 1956. The title already suggests the peculiar everyone-knows-everyone smallness of Nicaragua, as it refers to to the lines Darío wrote on the fan of the young daughters of doctor Louis Henri Debayle upon his triumphal return to Nicaragua in 1907. Debayle 'treated' Darío in 1916, when the poet died, while one of the Debayle-daughters, Salvadorita, would go on to marry Somoza (and eventually become the Nicaraguan 'first lady').
       The novel shifts back and forth in time, with much of the focus on the plot to assassinate Somoza. It begins with Darío's return to Nicaragua in 1907, then echoes that in the ship-journey bringing some of the conspirators planning to kill Somoza to Léon in 1956 -- with a long-lost statue of Darío aboard as well, a second homecoming for the poet.
       Around each man there are myths that blur reality: as they note long after his grand funeral, Darío may have been a famous figure but was perhaps better known for his celebrity than his work:

     "All because he was adored like a saint. Everybody in Nicaragua knew his poetry by heart from having read it so much," Captain Prío said.
     "In fact, his poetry had hardly been read at all in Nicaragua, Captain," Rigoberto said, checking his journal. "According to Customs' records, the total number of books imported in 1906 was one thousand three hundred twenty. How many of those were Rubén's ? No one knows. Perhaps not even fifty of them. And not one of his was printed here."
       Meanwhile, Ramírez also offers a handy Somoza-chronology, noting that Somoza already asked for Salvadora's hand on the very day of Darío's funeral (with papa Debayle turning him down) and then went on to work as a meter-reader and outhouse inspector before slowly achieving greater success (and winning the doctor's consent to marry Salvadora).
       For the most part, both Darío and Somoza aren't in the best of physical condition, with Darío constantly overindulging in alcohol while Somoza doesn't even have an asshole -- "They removed it at the Oschner Clinic in New Orleans, and never put it back" (i.e. he had a colostomy). But then neither has very long to live .....
       There's a large cast of characters here, some bridging both eras. It's a very colourful cast, too, many referred to by nicknames, such as The Alligator Woman (whom the fingers-in-everything Dr. Debayle 'helps' -- at Somoza's behest -- with a sex change operation, which, of course, merely results in yet another Debayle-debacle) or Darío's ex-wife, La Maligna (who truly does malignantly haunt him). The horrific experimentations of Debayle, representative for what the state can mindlessly inflict on its citizens, are fairly prominently placed -- and include the heart-wrenching scene of Darío's death at his hands, the poet pleading to another physician: "Doctor, save me from this barbarian". And for grisly comedic relief there's Debayle's removal of Darío's brain -- bigger than any he's ever heard of before -- and the ensuing struggle for ownership .....
       Margarita, How Beautiful the Sea shifts back and forth in time and place, a quilt of stories and dialogue. Darío takes a central (if often inebriated) role, while Somoza is deservedly peripheral, repeatedly glimpsed but barely focussed on. There is a play that is set to be produced, with some of those involved in it also figuring prominently in the story, but it is a book full of the orchestrated and planned, as if these were all plays, from Darío's 1907 return to Nicaragua to the unveiling of his statue decades later -- and, of course, to the carefully planned assassination of Somoza. Much goes wrong and is improvised, but the feel of attempting to script history -- small and large -- is present throughout.
       Sliding around as it does, the narrative can be frustrating to follow, but for the most part it is quite riveting. Yet Ramírez almost seems intimidated by the absurdity of many of the coincidences and occurrences, and while he (entertainingly) presents those facts that are stranger than fiction he sometimes seems to back off in the areas of pure invention.
       A fascinating story, and a fairly winning mix of fact and fiction.

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Links:

Margarita, How Beautiful the Sea: Reviews: Sergio Ramírez: Other books by Sergio Ramírez under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Nicaraguan author Sergio Ramírez was born in 1942 and served as vice president of the country from 1985 to 1990.

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© 2008-2011 the complete review

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