Pipe Bomb for the Soul is a collection of Alice Bag’s memoirs from her time spent in Nicaragua in 1986. If you are a fan of Bag’s 2011 memoir Violence Girl, as I am, then this slim volume is a welcome sequel of sorts. When discussing her immediate post-Bags life in Violence Girl, Bag mentions going back to college and the month she spent in Nicaragua that changed her life. I remember wishing she wrote more about that experience (especially because I spent time in Nicaragua two years after her). Lucky me, almost the entire Pipe Bomb is composed of her journal entries during this time, as she travels to Nicaragua as part of an internationalist group to help peasants in the northern part of the country. Less than a decade before, the Sandinistas overthrew the U.S.-backed dictator and established a revolutionary socialist society. Ronald Reagan’s administration sought to undermine and destroy the revolution, in part by establishing and funding the Contras. If this isn’t a familiar history to you, go pick up a few American punk albums from the 1980s and there will undoubtedly be plenty of references to it.
While most political punks in the ‘80s were content to sing about what a dickhead Reagan was, Bag actually traveled to Nicaragua to help out, first in the fields and then in the classroom (on a literacy campaign that was hugely successful and had profound implications). The diary entries cover her cultural shock at being in an impoverished rural community, to her awakening to the feminist aspects within the Sandinista struggle, to a self-awareness of revolution as a political and personal process. As she repeatedly observes, “the revolution starts within.”
Bag sprinkles her diary entries with historical facts to provide context, as well as a number of thematic box inserts, such as “Fuck This!” (when she recognizes bad thinking in her own journal writing), “Seeds for Germination” (to identify ideas that entered her subconscious and impacted her life later) and “Upon Reflection” (where she critically reflects upon her entries from her current perspective). When I read Violence Girl, I was entranced by Bag as a writer. She is open, honest, and engaging in that book, and in this one as well. My sole complaint is that I really wanted there to be more contemporary reflection from her on her entries from thirty years ago. The book might have been even more powerful if it were twice as long with many more thoughtful “Upon Reflection” interventions throughout. But Bag follows the logic of “leaving them wanting more.” Ultimately, this is a wonderful book and Alice Bag is a fucking gem. I look forward to reading whatever she writes next. –Kevin Dunn (Alice Bag Publishing, PO Box 41812, LA, CA 90041)