Reporter Chris Dickey Returns from Nicaragua with a Vivid Tale of a Country in Turmoil

updated 05/05/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/05/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The setting is the mountains of Nicaragua, and the characters are charismatic fighters with a passion for women and revenge and names like Suicida and Krill. The style is novelistic, but for Christopher Dickey—who spent three years in Central America before writing With the Contras, A Reporter in the Wilds of Nicaragua (Simon & Schuster, $18.95)—the experience was all too real. "You slept with your boots on," says Dickey, "because you never knew if you'd wake up running."

The adventure-loving son of poet and novelist James Dickey began researching his book in 1983, long before Ronald Reagan decided to turn aid to the anti-Sandinista rebels into a test of his Presidency. As the Washington Post's bureau chief for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, Dickey was invited, along with a Newsweek reporter, to travel with the Contras, who seemed eager to prove that they were not just shadowy mountain men but organized resistance fighters. "They wanted us to carry submachine guns," relates Dickey, 34, "but we refused. On the remote chance we were captured and if we survived, our only hope was to say we were journalists, not combatants."

A rover from his earliest days, Dickey moved with his family among various cities in the South and Europe as his father took on teaching jobs and writing fellowships. Later, as a student at the University of Virginia, Chris studied film; in 1971 he was a stand-in and production assistant on Deliverance, the movie based on his father's best-seller. By the time Dickey was a graduate film student at Boston University he was married and the father of Tuck, now 15. Turning to writing, he worked on a Washington guidebook for the Post. Soon he was writing book reviews, then moved on to covering local news. In 1980 he was sent to Central America.

Dickey's current assignment as the Post's Middle East correspondent is no tamer than his previous posting. He lives in Cairo with second wife Carol Salvatore, a linguist, and on several occasions has found himself under gunfire. Still Dickey says he wouldn't think of accepting a cushy job in a city like Paris. "I don't know if I'll always be young enough to pursue this kind of life," he says. "But I wouldn't trade it for anything right now."

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