A writer offers a personal perspective on the destruction and harm caused by Guatemala’s three-decade civil war.
In this debut Spanish-language nonfiction book, Wu-Bi centers the narrative on Margarita (no last name is provided), born to two professionals in the 1950s. Soon after her birth, Margarita’s parents returned to the city from the rural area in Guatemala where her mother, Isabel, had been teaching, and they lived in a community with a close-knit extended family. But many family members were connected to leftist politics, and when the word “communists” was painted on their house following the 1954 coup, they took refuge in Argentina’s embassy and later fled to that country. Isabel, less politically active, remained in Guatemala and worked to gradually enable her relatives’ return. Though their exile was brief, Wu-Bi notes that several “learned to speak with an Argentine accent, which some of them never forgot.” Margarita grew up familiar with intellectuals and guerrillas who opposed the government, though she often did not realize the extent of a family friend’s involvement until the person was kidnapped, tortured, and killed. Several chapters tell stories of individuals murdered by the government, though accounts of the ongoing violence that was part of Margarita’s life make it clear that combatants on all sides contributed to the killings. The author does a good job of showing how ubiquitous the war’s violence was for ordinary Guatemalans, from hand grenades detonated in movie theaters to “cateos,” when every house in a neighborhood would be searched by government officials. Wu-Bi’s writing is clear and concise, presenting the horrors of war and government-led torture without turning readers into voyeurs. The book deftly illustrates the human impact of war (“The armed struggle did not remove Guatemala’s poverty, or give the indigenous land ownership, what’s more, it aided in spreading fear and anguish, it spread pain in many homes, and it displaced many from their lands”). But readers unfamiliar with the Guatemalan civil war may need to look elsewhere for information on the conflict as a whole. A comprehensive list of links to both English and Spanish resources is provided at the end of the volume.
An engrossing, individually focused account of a long Central American war.