Deb Olin Unferth's 'Revolution'

By Stephen Lowman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 4, 2011; 12:52 PM


The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War

By Deb Olin Unferth

Henry Holt. 208 pp. $24

Deb Olin Unferth met George at an anti-CIA protest. She quickly fell in love. When George, a passionately devout Christian and communist sympathizer, asked if she wanted to go to Nicaragua and join the Sandinistas, she said "okay." So in 1987, at the age of 18, Unferth dropped out of college and traveled with George by bus to Central America. They were "a couple of idiot gringos" traipsing through bullet-scarred capitals, searching for revolution jobs, and spouting the lingo of liberation theology.

They were also young and stupidly in love, and the reader will have a pretty good idea as to how it's all going to end.

Even if we've never joined a revolution, at some point we've been in their shoes. And speaking of footwear, Unferth devotes one short chapter to the subject. She laments not having packed Birkenstocks because it "turns out the revolution was going to involve a lot of walking." Instead, she brought an uncomfortable, strappy number that soon fell apart. "But I'd wanted to look nice, you know, cute for the revolution." Unferth later learned that the Sandinistas jokingly referred to the foreigners who were inspired by their revolution and flocked to their country as "Sandalistas."

Part travel journal, part coming-of-age memoir, "Revolution" is at its most charming, and funny, in these tales of naivete and cultural difference. At one point Unferth fights for her right to go braless at a church-run orphanage in El Salvador, where she and George work in exchange for lodging. George, always loyal, follows her out the door when the head nun kicks her to the street.

Unferth spends the book's last chapters wondering what became of George and trying to understand their relationship. Part of the attraction can surely be summed up by a motto she found on the bedroom wall of a hostel: "Life is too short to eat vanilla ice cream and dance with boring men."

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