EL SALVADOR (*)

Manlio Argueta – One day of life (1983)

What it’s about: An old peasant woman talks about her life and her day, while around her security forces crackdown on a community that dared protest outside a bank for cheaper loans.

It is a one day diary delivered at intervals of have hours starting at 6:30 interspersed by accounts from other members of her family – usually of repression from landlords or police. Violence and intimidation are omnipresent.

For example, she tells us how new priests suddenly came along and instead of telling him to except the last started to educate them about their rights.

The woman starts her day with her chores but as the narrative develops a sense of danger gathers and soon there are soldiers at her door who is for her granddaughter to arrive.

High leather boots, halfway up their calves, and bandolier belts. The worst are those monsters they carry on their shoulders. These are the famous automatics they talk about. Iron helmets as in films about the Germans.”

The centrepiece of the novel is her fearful yet proud response to the soldiers in her home waiting for her granddaughter :

You walk with a cemetery full of crosses on your backs, and you don’t even notice, this useless terror that you converted into aggression. But in spite of all of this, I can still give you a little water.”

Why you should read it: It is also a novel of awakening:

The only thing we don’t have is rights. And as we begin to arrive at this awareness, this place filled up with authorities wishing to impose order, omnipotent, with the automatics as they call them. From time to time they come to see how we are behaving, who has to be taken away, who has to be beaten to be taught a lesson.

They want to force us with machetes and at gunpoint into resignation to our miseries. There is a kind of poverty they understand, the spiritual poverty they think they can force on us with their guns.”

Read it if you liked: The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamed. Katherine Boo — Behind the Beautiful Forevers.

The best book from El Salvador? The book probably wouldn’t have received as much attention as another El Salvadorian writer Mario Bencastro were US forces not at the time engaged in the country and training the repressive forces described in the novel.

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