Sunday, November 13, 2016

"The Ladies of Managua"

Eleni N. Gage's books include the travel memoir North of Ithaka, which describes her experience living in Lia, the small Greek village where her father was born, the novel Other Waters, about an Indian-American psychiatrist who thinks that her family has been cursed, and most recently, the novel The Ladies of Managua.

Gage applied the Page 69 Test to The Ladies of Managua and reported the following:
Any page a reader opens to in The Ladies of Managua will leave out two-thirds of the story. That’s because the novel is told in the alternating voices of three generations of Nicaraguan women. There’s the grandmother, Isabela, who attended convent school in New Orleans in the middle of the last century and is an unapologetic member of Nicaragua’s haute bourgeoisie. Her daughter, Ninexin, was a key Sandinista fighter during the Nicaraguan revolution of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and is now an important member of the Nicaraguan government. While Ninexin was busy building the new Nicaragua, Isabela raised Ninexin’s daughter, Mariana, in Miami, where they fled to avoid the civil war back home. When the book begins, Mariana, who now lives in New York, is flying to Nicaragua for the funeral of her grandfather. Each women has a secret she is hiding from the others, and all are trying to come to terms with their complicated relationships to each other, and to their homeland.

Telling the story in the voices of these three women allowed me to explore how differently we all see the same events, each looking at the world through our own lens, informed by our own experiences, resentments, hopes, and relationships. It’s amazing, sometimes, how little we know about even the people who are closest to us. Writing the book was a constant reminder of how important it is to try to look at the world through each others’ eyes.

Page 69 is part of an extended flashback Isabela has while sitting at her husband’s wake. Something Mariana shows her stirs up her memories of high school in New Orleans, where she was involved in an ill-fated romance with a young Cuban. She remembers a conversation she had with the Betsy, the African-American maid who worked on her floor.
I asked her, without even thinking about it, if she wouldn’t mind receiving mail for me from Mauricio, if he could send letters to her house, and she could give them to me when I saw her, or leave them in my underwear drawer, hidden under my balled-up stockings. She hesitated for a minute; I can see now that I was asking a lot, too much, maybe. I might have been suspended if we had been found out, but she would have been fired, and I knew her parents counted on her salary to help with her siblings, and needed everyone to do his or her share. But I was young and selfish and in love and I didn’t think of this at the time.
I loved writing in the voice of each of the ladies of Managua, but this scene illustrates one of the reasons I enjoyed writing Isabela the most. Older women they carry so many different selves within, they can constantly look back and reevaluate who they were in order to better understand who they are now. It’s a multitude of experiences I find infinitely fascinating.
Visit Eleni N. Gage's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Ladies of Managua.

--Marshal Zeringue