Looking Back at the Revolution

Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua

by Stephen Kinzer
Putnam's, 450 pp., $24.95

Inside Central America: Its People, Politics, and History

by Clifford Krauss
Summit, 316 pp., $19.95

Stephen Kinzer and Clifford Krauss both covered Central America as news correspondents for thirteen years. This is a long time for an American correspondent to stay in one region, and it is especially long in Central America, where throughout the 1980s the pace of news and bloodletting was relentlessly exhausting. Also, Central America does not at first seem to offer the historical depth or cultural diversity to hold a journalist’s fascination for a decade or better. After the millions of words about the region that filled American newspapers during the Reagan years, I believe many journalists, and not a few readers, were left feeling that they knew more than they needed to know about a neck of small, shallow countries which probably never merited the fuss that was made over them.

But Kinzer and Krauss stayed, and so became rare witnesses to a cycle of revolution and restabilization. Inspite of the long years, both have closed out their work in Central America by writing books that are nothing less than tributes to the qualities that drew them to the region.

I am in no position to provide an impartial review of either book. On one hand, I owe the fact that I am a paid journalist to Stephen Kinzer, who helped me to land his job at The Boston Globe in 1983 when he went to a Manhattan daily of some repute. On the other hand, I had the nerve-fraying experience of competing against Kinzer during the three years after 1986, when I was a Washington Post correspondent in Central America. I have not forgotten one or two singularly unpleasant evenings in Managua when I received phone calls from the Post’s foreign night editor informing me that Kinzer had this or that story on the front page of the Times and asking me if, in the eighteen minutes remaining until our second edition deadline, I could “match” it. Can I resist the temptation to avenge myself by using a review of his book to expatiate on my own views of the events we covered?

As for Krauss, I have been an admirer of his since a day in the early 1980s when he missed by a millimeter having his head blown off while he and I and a third reporter were chewing dust on a Salvadoran highway, caught in the midst of a shootout between the army and the guerrillas. The bullet in question nicked a rock and lost its lethal velocity just before settling into Krauss’s scalp. As we scuttled for cover he quipped casually: “I don’t even shave that close.” In addition, not the least of my attachments to Central America comes through my husband, Sam Dillon of the Miami Herald, whose book Comandos, an Investigative History of the Nicaraguan Contras, will be published in July.

It appears that Kinzer’s method for his book was to lay his many newspaper clips out before him and to write a narrative of the events in Nicaragua to put the…

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