Wednesday, February 20, 2019

El Salvador: One Day of Life, by Manlio Argueta

One Day of Life is a shocking book, and although it is set around the time of its publication in 1980, it seemed very relevant as the news talks of caravans of refugees from Guatemala heading for the United States border, and of American pressure for a change to the political regime in Venezuela.

In 1980 El Salvador was ruled by a brutal right wing government, backed by the United States. There had been fifty years of military rule. Fear of Communism seems to have been behind the US intervention, but this book suggests that for the majority of the peasants, it was not a political leaning towards Communism that motivated their resistance to the military regime, but a simple desire to have enough to eat and to feed their children.

The main narrator of the book is Lupe (Guadalupe), the matriarch and grandmother of a peasant family. The book follows her day from 5.30 a.m when she gets up and starts her chores, through to 5 p.m when the events related come to a resolution of sorts. From time to time, the point of view shifts to other characters, including her daughter Maria Pia, granddaughter Adolfina, and "the authorities" who are in fact, young peasant boys recruited to do the dirty work of the regime. And the action is not strictly limited to one day, as Lupe reflects on the events that have led to this day, and the hardships that the peasants experience.

Although there is a resolution, there is no happy ending. But Lupe endures her hardships with a sort of resignation. As the book says "better not to keep on thinking because it can embitter one's life".

One Day of Life was banned in El Salvador because of its negative view of the government, and the author had to go into exile in Costa Rica where he lived from 1972 to 1993 before returning to El Salvador. It was translated from Spanish by Bill Brow and published by Vintage International.