Thursday, January 26, 2012

One Day of Life - Manlio Argueta

I have an affinity for political novels, especially if they are of the nature of struggle and fight against oppression and authoritarian violence. I haven't known this writer earlier, and this seems to be the only novel written by him.

One day of Life, takes through the events that happens in a day to the family of Lupe ( Guadelupe Guardado) , a 45 year old grand mother, living in a provincial village in the interiors of El Salvador. The voice of the novel is of Lupe, with occasional notes and memories of others involved. The early day begin with her husband Jose, returning to the nearby forest , to avoid being interrogated , arrested and tortured by the police. She had lost her son recently, having brutally murdered , presumably after a prolonged torture. She was called to identify the body, which was beyond recognition. The day begun with the police team of two arriving at her door step, enquiring about her grand daughter Adolfino, with whom they wanted to have a word or two. An activist in her, is strong and is ready to face the consequences, however, the grand mother in her would not like to get the girl in trouble. The girl, who lives with her parents far away, had come to her grand mother for spending a week or two. It is known that the girls father had been taken by the authorities, and is "disappeared" since then. The girl herself was involved in an agitation of occupying the nearby church organised by the farmers demanding an end to police atrocities. The siege, is considered a great success, with the government agreed to their demands. However, the brutalities continued and the girl was asked to move to the grand mother for a few weeks. As the events unfold through the day, we were given account of the background of the farmers agitation and the aftermath.

This is the beginning of the trouble in El Salvador. The rich land owners and the government on one side and the farmers with some support from the church and the intellects on the other. For the authorities, the rebelling farmers and farm workers are influenced by the "Communists" and they had to be crushed. The initial support from the church and the priest were crushed with the murder of the young priest. The men are arrested and brutally tortured and the rest deserted their house and escaped to the hills. The authorities, set up a "special force" with the support of the CIA ( with an American Instructor and a Japanese Martial Art specialist) preparing them to combat the agitators with no mercy, as 'communists' should never e allowed to spread. The Church itself, after being the initial part of the creation and sustainability of the 'Christian Farmers Organisation' had been through the dilemma of taking stands, slowly distancing themselves from the movement. Jose, husband of Lupe is the leader of the organisation in their locale, hence being on constant danger of being captured and murdered.The villagers, stuck in between were paying the price with their lives. Their living condition continue to be in bad shape, all the works are controlled by the land owners, and are paid very low. Children are forced to work from the tender age of seven to support the families.

The language is brilliant and poetic. It is spoken through the words of Lupe, hence non -sophisticated and clear. The words and thinking are that of the old lady, and it is the village wisdom that comes out. But underneath is the profound tale of resistance, of awareness and of courage. All these brutality did not shake the determination of the people. At every setback, including loss of lives of their beloved, people show their resilience. Lupe goes through all that can be suffered by some one of her age. Loss of her son, missing of her son- in- law, the trouble that befallen her grand daughter, Adolgino at the young age of fourteen, shows a lot of intelligence and maturity. Even at the end of the day, when they were asked to identify the mis-shapen carcass of a human body ( well, almost, the eyes were open and was still blinking), she did not loose her courage. While Adolfino, could not and did not identify the body, Old Lupe had no trouble to realise, but refuses to succumb, refusing to reveal the identity of the person. It is these tales of survival that fuel the courage of the generations that follow to continue their resolve to fight for justice. It is from these blood that shed, grew newer sprouts of hope. And what this book leaves you with, despite the horrid tale of struggle, is this hope for a better future.

Beautifully told story of the political violence and uprising in El Salvador, through the words of a 45 year of 'grand mother'. As the title says, the events happen in one day , with narration intermixed with re-telling or recounting of the connected stories of gruesome act of atrocities by the authorities. This book was banned on publication , in El Salvador and the writer was living in exile ever since (he was deported at least 4 times from his country). Very good.
One Day of Life ( 1980 )

Manlio Argueta ( Translated from Spanish by Bill Brow 1983)

Aventura - Vintage

215 Pages
Mimilooc, Angelfire, Wiki Entry

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