Salman Rushdie: The Jaguar Smile

I never was able to finish Rushdie’s famed Satanic Verses due to the fact that it simply wouldn’t end, but recently while on a service trip in Nicaragua with my students, I opted for his much shorter The Jaguar Smile.

In this 1987 work, Rushdie illustrates Nicaragua the way he experiences it during the Sandinista dictatorial rule, to which he was sympathetic. The book put a lot into perspective for me, (despite likely glossing over of the more gruesome details of the dictatorship, due to the fact that Rushdie was there on the Sandinistas’ invitation).

Reading this book was an important experience for me in my development as a critical reader. (NB: While reading this particular work, I did in fact keep it in mind to take all of Rushdie’s statements with a grain of salt, seeing as he is so well-known for his incendiary prose.) First of all, it was perspective-altering to read about the tumultuous political and social goings-on in a tiny country that would one day mean so much to me (I have visited Nicaragua twice), but seeing as I was busy being a toddler in New Jersey a few miles from the Newark airport, the upheaval in Nicaragua didn’t mean anything to me at the time the book was written.

Secondly, Rushdie blatantly depicts the United States as the bad guys throughout the entire book, and it occurred to me while reading this book that this was the first time in my literary adventures that I had ever read a work that portrays the US as the antagonist. While the truth usually lies somewhere in between what the parties say on opposite ends of a conflict, Rushdie’s work made me realize that the US policy towards Nicaragua not only had immediate effects in the 80s, but also led me wonder whether the US’s role in Nicaraguan politics at a significant time in the country’s development may have had effects that potentially are at the root of some of Nicaragua’s modern problems – poverty, lack of access to education and health care in rural areas, and so on. After all, I was there with my students on a service trip to break ground for a pre-school in a remote village that has no running water or electricity. There is one teacher with an assistant, and doctors only come in the form of volunteers who come every so often from non-profits- Nicaragua has some of the worst poverty levels in the western hemisphere that afflict the small population of less than 6 million. Therefore, while reading the book, I had to ask myself if any of Nicaragua’s modern problems could be attributed to the US embargo, Iran-Contra and subsequent events. I suppose not all of Nicaragua’s problems could be ascribed to those specific incidents, but I wonder if one could entirely rule out such a significant part of the country’s history either. (for example, look how the US embargo has stunted Cuba’s development)

our group on the work site breaking ground for the pre-school

our group on the work site breaking ground for the pre-school

Despite the complicated history not too many decades ago, I was under the impression that Americans are very well-received in Nicaragua. Our group received nothing but the most effusive welcome and extreme gratitude for the small project we worked on. In the event that my own country had purposefully or inadvertently set policies in motion a long time ago that stunted Nicaragua’s development at an integral time, our group felt as if we were doing our part to remedy that unfortunate time period through our good work.

In sum, my reading of The Jaguar Smile was typical Rushdie– controversial, shocking, bold, and very well written. The book moved at a good pace; I was done in a handful of hours.

4 Comments on “Salman Rushdie: The Jaguar Smile”

  1. Bill April 15, 2013 at 07:05 #

    I agree with your assessment about how US intervention affected the growth of Nicaragua. We try to keep the countries which surround us to be friends with us and when a politician whose ideas go against the ideas we want these countries to keep, we simply try to turn the tide against those we deemed “aggressor”. And this has a long term affect, just as you pointed out, CUBA. The Cubans are lagging behind in almost every phase of growth; My boss was down there for a week doing some work with his church and he mentioned how it seems the Cuban people are 20 years behind us and other strong Latin American countries. Was it President Wilson who had a plan for the Central and South American countries plus the Monroe Doctrine outlined how the countries in our hemisphere should manage themselves and their internal politics. Of course, back then, we didn’t have the CIA or covert operations designed to help or hamper countries we decided were non-conforming to our democracy ambitions for this hemisphere. We must have friendly nations as neighbors………

    I don’t know about you but during Karen’s and I visit, we saw the people of Nicaragua not as we see others in the Caribbean islands as being Americanized. We saw them as they are, Nica’s. Of course, political party’s, imports and exports and their monetary system factor in the growth of their country and the welfare of their citizens. Nicaragua is moving in the right direction. Thanks to people like you, the kids with strong backs and minds, their current growth and place in hemisphere, Nicaragua has a chance.

    • Marisa LaValette April 15, 2013 at 14:24 #

      Thanks Bill! Yes, I knew you would reply to this article, because you and Karen are so well-traveled!

  2. sell my car April 29, 2014 at 16:05 #

    Can I subscribe to your articles? I don’t know how to do it and don’t want to miss your next

  3. Marisa LaValette April 30, 2014 at 08:12 #

    Hallo Donald,

    There should be a button on the right side of this screen that says “Follow” Savvy CitiZen. There you can enter your email address in the box, and you will get an email whenever I publish a post. Today is the next post.

    Thank you for reading on my site!

    Danke schön!

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