Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby was a suave but crass braggart who considered others less intelligent to threaten his social and financial status. In Banana Republican, Professor Eric Rauchway presents Tom Buchanan’s diary of his unintelligent, egocentric escapades in Nicaragua. All of Tom’s money is held and controlled by his Aunt Gertrude. She is removing him from an uncomfortable legal problem, owing to his wife Daisy having driven the car that struck and killed another woman. Daisy has since packed on the weight and booze and gone shrill on poor Tom. So he welcomes the opportunity to possibly make some independent money and escape the increasingly depressing home atmosphere. But Tom never learns, and then again why should he?
Tom is the perfect caricature of white businessmen and politicians who believe they can control finance, government, war, peace, race, sex, in all, everything. So off to Managua goes Tom in 1924, a time when presidential coups are constantly in flux, whether that be orchestrated by Solorzano, Sacasa, Chamorro, or their supporting armies versus the National Guard whose loyalties fluctuate accordingly. While he claims to mentally eschew the use of military power to back a particular political party and president, Tom’s own bribery and negotiating skills backfire, forcing him to run guns, participate in a brutal fight, observe a horrific bombing based on wrong information he was possibly responsible for, and generally back ever-changing politicians who never really permanently go away. It’s a familiar cyclical story of Nicaraguan, even Central American history, which Americans like Tom have attempted to control but wound up being totally ineffectual in more ways than one. Banana Republican is frustrating, accurate, and realistic fiction about one slice of American history full of good intentions but gone totally awry!