Despite their earnest commitment to a myriad of revolutionary causes and to each other, Deb and her boyfriend find themselves unwanted, unhelpful, and unprepared as they bop around Central America, looking for "revolution jobs." The year is 1987, a turning point in the Cold War, although the world doesn’t know it yet, especially not Unferth and her fiancé (he proposes on a roadside in El Salvador). The months wear on and cracks begin to form in their relationship: they get fired, they get sick, they run out of money, they grow disillusioned with the revolution and each other. But years later the trip remains fixed in her mind and she finally goes back to Nicaragua to try to make sense of it all. Unferth’s heartbreaking and hilarious memoir perfectly captures the youthful search for meaning, and is an absorbing rumination on what happens to a country and its people after the revolution is over.
“[A] funny and self-mocking memoir . . . The much-praised author of a novel and a short story collection, and the recipient of several literary awards, Unferth can surely write. Her account of a spider-infested hotel room makes your skin crawl. You find yourself re-reading descriptions ('Narrow birds took slim steps along the sidelines.') simply for the pleasure of the language.”—Veronique de Turenne, Chicago Tribune
“Revolution calls itself a memoir, but Deb Olin Unferth’s tale of dropping out of college to join the Sandinista revolution is something altogether stranger and more dazzling: It’s a virtuosic one-woman show . . . [Revolution] captures Central American society on the cusp of change and middle-class Americans in the fog of youth. It’s smart, stylish, compulsive reading: memoir at its best.”—Time Out New York
“Unferth, author of the novel Vacation, recounts her 1987 trip to El Salvador and Nicaragua in her new memoir, the hilarious, sad, and beautiful Revolution . . . The genre of the memoir has taken it on the chin lately, and there’s no arguing that there are some comically low cards in the autobiographical deck . . . But Revolution proves that not only is the genre not dead, it still has a lot to teach us. Unferth’s story is fascinating, but there's no point in the book where the reader feels that she considers herself special—her humility and perspective are remarkable, and very, very rare. But it’s the quality of the prose that makes Revolution one of the best memoirs of the past several years. It’s a difficult book to stop reading; Unferth is charming, charismatic, and breathtakingly smart . . . And it’s also a fascinating perspective on the late ’80s, an era which most of us remember—if we remember it all—with images of Colonel North lying in front of Congress, President Reagan claiming that he didn’t remember (hopefully, he was lying about that, but who knows?) the details of his administration’s illegal arms trade. It’s really just perfect, and it’s more than enough to catapult Unferth into the ranks of America’s great young writers. There is, she seems to indicate, a kind of redemption in work, of giving yourself to a cause you believe in, no matter how unsuccessful your fight is. There is a redemption, an almost holy one, in liberation. The ’80s are well behind us now, and the causes the young Deb and George didn’t turn out the way they wanted them to. Revolution teaches us that it’s not over, though, even when it’s over. La revolución está muerto, viva la revolución.”—Michael Schaub, Bookslut
Deb Olin Unferth is the author of the story collection Minor Robberies and the novel Vacation, winner of the 2009 Cabell First Novelist Award and a New York Times Book Review Critics' Choice. Her work has been featured in Harper's Magazine, McSweeney's, The Believer, and the Boston Review. She has received two Pushcart Prizes and a 2009 Creative Capital grant for Innovative Literature and was a Harper's Bazaar Editors' Choice: Name to Know in 2011. She teaches at Wesleyan University and currently lives in New York.
Deb Olin Unferth On Writing Revolution
A book trailer for Revolution, a memoir by Deb Olin Unferth.