After reading Phil Halton’s THIS SHALL BE A HOUSE OF PEACE and finding it both courageous (it offered a nonpartisan view of the forming of the Taliban) and engaging, I checked out his other novel, EVERY ARM OUTSTRETCHED. In this novel, we see the Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua in the Seventies from the perspective of a guerilla. I liked this one even more, finding it again rare in perspective and highly realistic and engaging as military fiction.
It’s the Seventies, and as the economy worsens in the Central American country of Nicaragua, criticism of Somoza, the country’s horrible far-right dictator, amplifies, which leads to brutal state repression. In Managua, Paco, a street musician, and Ramon, a playboy recently kicked out of medical school, find themselves targeted by the regime during a mass arrest of suspected leftists. On the run, they find themselves in a poorly equipped and trained guerilla unit in the jungle. Over time, they become leaders of a column, Ramon the inspired revolutionary and Paco the pragmatic guerilla fighter. Together, they will build an army that may topple a brutal dictator, though every step in the revolution brings a steadily mounting cost to their humanity.
I loved this book. Reading it, I was reminded of Steven Soderbergh’s cinema verite film CHE; like Che Guevara, Ramon is a doctor and is similarly inspired in his rhetoric and thinking and innovative with his tactics. Where CHE often feels like a documentary, however, Halton’s novel goes far deeper into the anguish, decisions, and hopes of a guerilla fighter, drawing you in to experience the story and truly root for the protagonists. EVERY ARM OUTSTRETCHED is also quite believable–historically accurate without info dumping, exciting but without romanticizing violence, and with the ultimate stakes: patria o muerte–basically translating as, we will win our homeland or die trying.
These two books turned me into something of a Phil Halton fan. This former Canadian Forces officer who served in hot spots around the world offers two works of historical/military fiction that simultaneously showed me pieces of history from a different perspective and culture while providing a compelling and engaging story.