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Books

The written word is all-important in Nicaragua. The country is famous throughout the Spanish-speaking world for being a country of great poets and writers. (Despite this, many poor people have only recently achieved literacy, and most Nicaraguans cannot afford a book.) It is a source of great national pride that one of the finest poets in Spanish literature, Rubén Darío, hailed from León. Songs of Life and Hope (Duke University Press Books) is an excellent collection by Darío. The anthology Ruben's Orphans (Painted Rooster Press), translated into English by Marco Morelli, is a collection of contemporary Nicaraguan poetry.

The Country Under My Skin: A Memoir of Love and War (Anchor) is by one of Nicaragua's best-known writers and poets, Giaconda Belli, and covers her experience as a woman and Sandinista during the revolution. The Jaguar Smile (Random House), by Salman Rushdie, gives a poetic and humorous account of a trip he made to Nicaragua in 1986 to experience the revolution firsthand. Blood of Brothers (Putnam), by New York Times journalist Stephen Kinser, is generally regarded as the best and most evenhanded chronicle of modern Nicaragua.

Film

Most films that are available in English about Nicaragua inevitably dwell on the recent wars. Under Fire stars Nick Nolte as a photojournalist covering the Sandinista revolution, uttering the immortal words, "I don't take sides; I take pictures." Carla's Song is a gritty and realistic movie about a Glaswegian bus driver taking a Nicaraguan refugee home to her country. Walker -- A True Story has Ed Harris playing the American despot. The World Is Watching is an acclaimed documentary about the media coverage of the Contra war, and The World Stopped Watching is a just-as-fascinating sequel.

Music

Poetic folk music is very popular in Nicaragua, and the Mejia brothers are perhaps the country's most famous troubadours. They use the guitar and accordion to sing of love and revolution. Over on the Caribbean coast (where Kenny Rogers is phenomenally popular), old-fashioned country-and-western music rules. Finally, you'll find it hard to avoid the cheerful rhythms of marimba (a wooden xylophone), which play on almost every city plaza.

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