El Salvador: The Road To Civil War

There is just something about banned books, especially in a case like One Day of Life by Manlio Argueta; the government of El Salvador banned it, because it must have been too close to the truth… It is however fictitious, and if everything would be fine in the country, there wouldn’t be a need for a ban, would there? One Day of Life was published in 1980, the same year as the civil war started. The author lived for more than 20 years in exile in Costa Rica.

The book is about a day in life, basically a day like any other day in Chalatenango. It takes us back to the days just before the civil war by following the life of Guadalupe Guardado and her female family members. Yes, female, that alone must be a scary thought (for the government).

Chalatenango is explained to be “tranquil, without big problems, only household ones, without robberies or delinquency. My mother says she always remembers it as having been a peaceful place.” It sounds like a nice place to grow up and share a life with your extended family. Well, it probably was until the war.

The protagonist’s husband works for a well-off landowner. Not happy with the way life is he becomes a leader for the Christian farmers organisation, a rebellious grouping against the existing order. Hard times are upon the family. “Life gets harder and harder. They say we have a lot of people in this country. And the most abundant are the poor. Hordes of poor people everywhere. But what can we do? What are we guilty of? That is why there’s so much hunger in the villages and everywhere.”

The story that I found the most disturbing was when a bus filled with young people got tear gassed and the bus started burning. The ones who survived were shot, by government troops of course. This same story is actually my favourite part of the book as well. It felt so real, and gave me, yet again, a picture of humankind at its worst.

The story itself is important and interesting, but as it unfortunately frequently happens with Latin American literature, the author lost me from time to time. There must be a cultural explanation to this, because it happens to me quite frequently. There must be a missing link, and I hope I’ll get it fixed one way or another.

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