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February 11, 2011

Book Notes - Deb Olin Unferth ("Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Deb Olin Unferth's memoir Revolution balances the voices of naivete and reflection as she recounts her life in Central America as an eighteen year-old caught in a whirlwind of revolution, religion, and love. Unferth captures her youthful idealism clearly, and her perspectives as an adult are filled with dry humor and honest insight.

If you enjoyed Deb Olin Unferth's debut novel Vacation (I did, calling it "wonderfully unsettling"), then you will love this book. If you haven't read her work before, I recommend picking up both books.

The Rumpus wrote of the book:

"Revolution is a ruefully funny memoir that surprises and delights at nearly every turn—through style, subject matter, and a chronological structure that hiccups with flashbacks and flash forwards."

In her own words, here is Deb Olin Unferth's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir, Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War:

My boyfriend and I had quit school and gone to Central America in hopes of helping foment the Communist revolution in Nicaragua. This was 1987, and we couldn't understand why we weren't hippies. We listened to songs by The Who and thought they contained messages from God. We were Christians and we felt God had called us to service. In one hostel we made a "Who Room" and drew all over the wall lyrics that we thought of as His declarations or our prayers:

"Change it had to come" (from "Won't Get Fooled Again")
"Why don't you all ffffffade away?" (from "My Generation")
"There once was a note listen" (from "Pure and Easy")
"God there's got to be another way" (from "Who Are You")

We also could chant long sections of Woodie Guthrie's story-song "Alice's Restaurant." We used lines of that song as a secret code between us. "After the ordeal" meant that something absurd and horrible had just occurred. "You can get anything you want" meant we were happy. "Twenty-seven eight-by-ten colored glossy pictures" meant we were confronting an incomprehensible bureaucracy. And so on. I can still recite that song. Very likely I can recite the entire eighteen minutes with a little help from the audience.

We were socialists and as such sang the Internationale, the international socialist anthem in English and German. Also we were Americans, amid crowds of foreigners, so we were sometimes called upon to sing the U.S. national anthem (I couldn't sing beyond "by the dawn's early light," having not attended much baseball as a child).

And there was the local music. That year the song "Capullo y Sorullo," a Colombian cumbia by Sonora Dinamita, was a huge hit and played everywhere we went. I'd be willing to bet that I danced to it no less than forty times in six months. It tells, in a boisterously cheerful voice, a rather grim, disturbing story of love and betrayal and a family torn apart. Lines from it still run through my head ("Oye Capullo, a todos los quiero equal…")

Years later when I began returning to Central America, a Mexican cumbia band called Los Angeles Azules had taken over the continent, and the song I heard on every bus, in every restaurant and bar, was "Cómo Te Voy a Olvidar," How Am I Going to Forget You, and it was a depressing scene, man, my going from country to country, hearing a song like that, while doing my best to not write a memoir.

Deb Olin Unferth and Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War links:

excerpt from the book (at The Believer)
video trailer for the book

Corduroy Books review
In the Next Room review
Kirkus Reviews review
New York Observer review
Providence Phoenix review
The Rumpus review
Vol. 1 Brooklyn review

The Faster Times interview with the author
Gapers Block interview with the author
Guernica essay by the author on memoirs
HTMLGIANT interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for her novel Vacation
Rob McLennan's Blog interview with the author
The Rumpus essay by the author listing where she wrote the book
The Rumpus interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

Online "Best Books of 2010" lists
Online "Best Music of 2010" lists

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists