Review of What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance by Carolyn Forche Rating *****
Carolyn Forche’s book starts with a visit from a total stranger with a distant family connection. The stranger, Leonel Gomez Vides, invites Carolyn to visit his home country of El Salvador. The reason for the unusual request unfolds throughout the book. It is a journey that encompasses danger, poverty, brutality, oppression, and ultimately war. Along the way, there is a great deal of history.
Leonel’s ultimate goal was to have Carolyn witness firsthand the many atrocities occurring in El Salvador with the hope that she might write about her experiences and educate Americans. This book, in many ways, achieves that goal.
Leonel turns out to be a wise sage. He teaches Carolyn about his country: the past, present and future. He shows her the best the region has to offer as well as the worst. If Leonel had been in a position to run for a free and democratic election, he would have been the type of individual who could have turned it all around.
One of my favorite sayings goes something like this: feed a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime. Dictators and autocrats have a different mindset. Not only do they not teach a man to fish, they don’t give him the fish either. Instead, they threaten, intimidate, imprison, or murder those who oppose them.
It is a sad commentary that many of the problems described in this book, such as the abject poverty and violence that permeates this story, still exist today. Maybe if the right politician finds this book, he or she will have a better insight on what changes are needed. Handing money over to corrupt governments isn’t the way.