Essays on life in Central America today

Luisa in Realityland, by Claribel Alegr'ia. Translated by Darwin Flakoll. Willimantic, Conn.: Curbstone Press. 154 pp. $17.95, cloth; $9.95, paper. Claribel Alegr'ia, born in 1924 in Nicaragua but raised from early childhood in El Salvador, is one of the richest literary voices of Central America. She is a poet, essayist, journalist, and novelist, but above all a writer deeply committed to the restoration of peace in her region.

While living in the United States in the early '60s, she published ``New Voices of Hispanic America'' (Beacon Press, 1962), an anthology that included early work of some writers who have since become major figures in contemporary Latin American literature.

In 1982, North American readers became reacquainted with Alegr'ia with the publication of ``Flowers from the Volcano'' (University of Pittsburgh Press), translated by the poet Carolyn Forche. In this collection of poems, the realities of political upheaval in Central America are revealed in language of great poetical intensity.

``Luisa in Realityland'' is an eclectic collection of personal essays, vignettes, and poems portraying life today in Central America, life dominated by violence, fear, and a loss of innocence: ``In my country/ sometime ago/ the soldiers/ began killing children.'' Although sometimes uneven in its literary quality and tone, this book is sustained by the nostalgic voice of the child narrator. Her vision and story of her own life become a collective history of a people surrounded by ``a broken mirror of war,'' a lost land, and a landscape of seemingly forbidden childhood.

The style of the book is neither bitter, nor propagandistic, nor a political statement regarding the region's turmoil. It is a book by a writer driven by a vision of peace, and committed to peace and justice for all people, not just her own, the composition of a poet moved by an obsessive desire for a better tomorrow. Here are a few lines from her poem ``Epitaph'': ``I don't want a gravestone over my body/ only fresh grass/ and a flowering jasmine.''

``Luisa in Realityland'' intertwines real events with fables from Central American lore. The fantastic and the real, hope and despair, are neither heightened nor disguised; they are simply accepted as what is. Yet a vision of peace pervades this personal memoir of Luisa in Realityland, if not yet Wonderland:

The sky splits open

rolls up like a scroll

of shadows

inviting us to enter and be dazzled

come, love

let's return to the future.

Marjorie Agos'in teaches Spanish at Wellesley College.

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