Janet Ross-Heiner, Library Assistant and Engilsh Language Instructor recommends What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance by Carolyn Forché.
Over the past six years I have cultivated relationships with many patrons who have a great passion for reading. I invite you now to read, What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance by Carolyn Forché. Her incantation with writing has a tone that is scorching and poetic. I felt spellbound when reading her. Forché has also written a book of poems. A distilled form of poetry after seven extended trips to Salvador, In the Lateness of The World (811.54 FOR).
Her works are ingrained by her testimony of the El Salvadoran 12-year civil war during the late 1970s into the 1980s, in which tens of thousands were murdered. A clarion work that took her to Salvador with seven extended stays where she experienced grave atrocities. I connected immediately with her storytelling and hypnotic writing as I do with Eduardo Galeano, Rigoberta Menchú, Isabel Allende, and Pablo Neruda, because of my own epistemological experiences in Central America and Latin American studies.
Forché presents truth as something personal and individual, verified by physical senses and therefore impossible to ignore. Her memoir suggests that those who truly take the time to walk in the shoes of others will themselves be changed, and that when they speak out against suffering, they do so with authority. What You Have Heard Is True is a beautiful and important book of one poet’s awakening to the suffering of others and to the power of words.
Carolyn Forché lived in Mallorca, Spain, where she spent a summer translating poems of Claribel Alegria, a self-exiled Salvadorian who was Nicaraguan. The book begins when Carolyn, at 27, hears a knock on her door. It was a man whose name was Leonel Gomez. In the back of his car were his two young daughters. Gomez’s name was vaguely familiar to Forché. She remembered Claribel speak of him. He urged her to travel with him back to El Salvador, where she could write for the voiceless. She was a writer, a journalist and an extraordinary poet. Gomez believed a war was inevitable and that the United States had something to do with it. During their first conversation, he spoke of his conviction that poetry could convey across borders the suffering of others and their hope for a better life.
The war Gomez predicted turned out to be just that, a blood bath, sparked by the inequity between the majority living in squalor with a meager subsistence and the wealthy elite that controlled the country. The civil conflict was between Marxist resistance groups fighting against the U.S. backed conservative government. The Government death squads terrorized the country; more than 700,000 people were massacred. The U.S.-backed sanctions and soft coups continue today. Nicaragua is a recent and current target.
I, too, experienced firsthand the covert and illegal insidious U.S.-sponsored Contra War during the 1980s. Living in Nicaragua, I peeled away misinformation and disinformation mostly shared in mainstream news media. Was it alternative truth?
I asked myself often during the 80s when living in Nicaragua: What is a Freedom Fighter and who is the terrorist?
The Community Library hosted an event on September 1, 2022: ARGO: Behind the Scenes with Jonna Mendez. CIA mastermind and current Hemingway Writer-in-Residence, Jonna Mendez, took us behind-the-scenes in a film about the Iran hostages and the Contra War supported as a covert illegal act. While the event isn’t available for replay, you can check out the film or the book in ebook or eaudiobook from our Digital Collections here.
Epilogue: Forché lived in Salvador, 1978-80. Forché’s collection of poems, The Country Between Us, which opens with a series of poems about El Salvador, begins:
In memory of Monsignor Oscar Romero:
Caminante, no hay camino
Se hace camino al andar.
“Walker, there is no path. You make the path as you walk.” ~Antonio Machado.