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Silence on the Mountain: A Story of Terror and Forgetting in the Coffee Fields of Guatemalaby Daniel Wilkinson
Synopses & Reviews
Silence on the Mountain is a virtuoso work of reporting and a masterfully plotted narrative tracing the history of Guatemala's thirty-six-year internal war, a conflict that claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people, the vast majority of whom died (or were "disappeared") at the hands of the U.S.-backed military goverment.
In 1993 Daniel Wilkinson, a young human rights worker, begins to investigate the arson of a coffee plantation's manor house by a band of guerrillas. The questions surrounding this incident soon broaden into a complex mystery that compels Wilkinson to seek out an impressive cross-section of the country's citizens, from coffee workers to former guerrillas to small-town mayors to members of the ruling elite. From these sources he is able to piece together the largely unwritten history of the long civil war, following its roots back to a land reform movement derailed by a U.S.-sponsored military coup in 1954 and, further back, to the origins of Guatemala's plantation system, which put Mayan Indians to work picking coffee beans for the American and European markets.
Silence on the Mountain reveals a buried history that has never been told before, focusing on those who were most affected by Guatemala's half-century of violence, the displaced native people and peasants who slaved on the coffee plantations. These were the people who had most to gain from the aborted land reform movement of the early 1950s, who filled the growing ranks of the guerrilla movement in the 1970s and 1980s, and who suffered most when the military government retaliated with violence.
Decades of terror-inspired fear have led Guatemalans to adopt a survival strategy of silence so complete it verges on collective amnesia. Wilkinson's great triumph is that he finds a way for people to tell their stories, and it is through these stories — dramatic, intimate, heartbreaking — that we come to see the anatomy of a thwarted revolution that is relevant not only to Guatemala but to any country where terror has been used as a political tool.
"No book can sum up an entire country, but some have to be pressed into service. I, Rigoberta Menchú, the story of a counterinsurgency survivor who won the Nobel Peace Prize, used to be taken as the book that summed up Guatemala; but Menchú was a guerrilla cadre when she gave her account, and her stock villains and militant tone did not do justice to the many Guatemalans who weren't revolutionaries. Silence on the Mountain provides a wider crosssection of the society because Wilkinson's quest for information takes him from the upper to the lower to the middle classes, through the different tiers of Guatemala's dependent export economy, all the way to your morning latte." David Stoll, The New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)
Written by a young human rights worker, "Silence on the Mountain" is a virtuoso work of reporting and a masterfully plotted narrative tracing the history of Guatemala's 36-year internal war, a conflict that claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people.
About the Author
Daniel Wilkinson was born in 1970. He graduated from Harvard College and received his law degree from Yale University. He currently works with Human Rights Watch.
Table of Contents
I. A HOUSE BURNED the owner 3 the student 7 the battlefield 11 exhumation 19
II. ASHES FELL rumor 29 travelogue 32 natural history 42 bildungsroman 48 revelation 56 decree 65
III. A FUTURE WAS BURIED a dangerous question 83 the law that would change the world 157 betrayal 168 burials 180
IV. AND THEY WERE THE ERUPTION the savages 193 sacuchúm 199 the guerrillas 217 the politicians 252 the terrorists 307 the defeated 337 the storytellers 350
List of Names 361 Note on Sources 362 Selected Bibliography 369
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