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3Q with Deb Olin Unferth (Win This Book!)

The text in this video is the ACTUAL LETTER she sent her parents. No, really.

Revolution by Deb Olin Unferth (book trailer) from Beacon Projects on Vimeo.

The book is Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War, and it got a lot of rave reviews, and it deserved them.

LET’S PICK BOOKLIST: …Unferth dropped out of college during her freshman year to accompany her boyfriend, George, to El Salvador and Nicaragua, where they planned to join the Revolution. It was 1987, and these zealous misfit-innocents were drawn to the radiance of liberation theology. Two gauche, earnest, and stoic white kids with some Spanish and no understanding of politics, war, or poverty, Unferth and George barely survived their run-ins with machine-gun-toting soldiers, gigantic spiders, vicious microbes, thieves, activists, journalists, priests, and prostitutes. As wild and gnarly as this tale of youthful hubris is, Unferth’s prose remains as sure and slicing as a machete, clearing a path through a jungle of emotions. As Unferth revisits the appalling civil wars of Central America in her rueful and intoxicating account of a mad adventure and crazily improvised rites of initiation into selfhood, she creates a memoir of unique lucidity, wit, and power.

I loved this book. I am bitterly jealous that *I* never dropped out of college to foment the revolution, but it is too late now. You can only do that sort of thing before your frontal lobe finishes developing.

I got Deb to sign a copy for YOU, yes YOU, in NYC. It says “For my best beloved, in anticipation of your next great revolution.”
First number the generator gives gets this EXTRA super cool one, and then Deb’s publicist will give the next two numbers each a regular super cool copy.

You have until MONDAY, March 28, at midnight EST to enter. There are,as usual, 4 ways:

Deb at 18 in Nicaragua

Way One: Leave a comment here. Easy peasy chicken squeezy.
Way Two: Post a link to this contest on your facebook page. Then post a SEPARATE COMMENT here saying you have done so.
Way Three: TWEET a link to this contest. Then post a SEPARATE COMMENT here saying you have done so.
Way Four: Post a link to this contest on your Blog. Then post a SEPARATE COMMENT here linking back saying you have done so.

Now, the good stuff:

JJ: Tell us about why you decided to drop out of college and go to a war zone with your boyfriend.

DOU: I was eighteen and, at that age, it didn’t seem like an unreasonable thing to do. Eighteen-year-olds have been responsible for all kinds of world events. They vote, they fight in wars, they protest, have babies, do drugs. What crazy thing did you do when you were eighteen?

My boyfriend and I believed we had been called by God to help install the Marxist utopia on Earth. It sounds little strange now, but at that time, 1987, all over Latin America there were Communist revolutionary movements sprouting up. Our plan was partly to document what was going on—we brought a tape recorder along and went around interviewing any revolutionary politician or priest who would talk to us—and partly to “help” in whatever way we could. Unfortunately we weren’t very good at helping, since we had no skills.

Love, too, was part of it. I was in love for the first time and would have followed my boyfriend anywhere.

Maybe also there was some good old fashioned teenage rebellion in me: my parents were horrified. I left the country without telling them and wrote them a letter to say I was gone.

JJ: How did you research this book? Books and google? or did you have to experience it to be able to write about it?

DOU: I wanted this memoir to be a fun read, funny and smart. I wanted it to be a coming-of-age story and a love story. I didn’t want it to be a history book or a political analysis.

That said, I wanted it to be informative. I wanted even someone who knew quite a bit about the history to learn a few things. I did a lot of research. Since this topic has been a personal interest of mine for many years, I’ve been reading books about Central American history and politics on and off since the 1980s.

I suppose I know more about the history of El Salvador and Nicaragua than I do about United States history, for better or worse. I also spent a lot of time in Central America and I speak Spanish. I interviewed some of the key players involved in those wars. When it came time for me to write, mostly it was a matter of picking out the most interesting stories, and there were so many to choose from: the dictators fleeing Nicaragua, the hotel with the gun battles in the lobby, the efforts of the FMLN to take over the capital of El Salvador.

JJ: What do you think of your cover and how does it compare to the cover you imagined when you were writing the book?

I love the cover! Before Holt talked to me about my cover, I spoke to the independent book designer Jeff Clark, who’s a friend of mine, and asked his opinion. We looked at books of old Russian Constructivist posters from the Cold War. I am in love with that style—the block lettering with the strange alphabet, the bold colors, the silhouette figures.

I showed my editor at Holt samples of these posters and I wrote up a description of how I thought the cover should look. She showed them to the book designer, who ran with the idea and improved it. I love the cover. It feels celebratory and strong, but it’s also kind of funny and romantic. It’s a quixotic cover for a very quixotic book about falling in love and embarking on a mission that’s doomed to fail.

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