Set in El Salvador during the civil war of the 1980s, Ben tez's third novel (after A Place Where the Sea Remembers and Bitter Grounds) seamlessly blends fact with imagination, evoking the trauma of war more vividly than any newspaper account. Nine-year-old Nicol s de la Virgen Veras lives with his grandfather Tata in Chalatenango, El Salvador, but on March 30, 1980, his mother, Lety, who works in San Salvador for Don Enrique, brings him to the city to witness the burial of a martyred saint, Archbishop Romero. In a bloodbath based on a real-life event, 35 people in the crowd of 80,000 are killed and 450 wounded by soldiers' fire. Lety dies protecting Nicol s. When her body is taken away, Nicol s cannot believe she is dead and tries first to find the hospital for the wounded, then to get home to find Don Enrique's address. As he journeys through the bleak Salvadoran landscape, Nicol s is caught in the violent clashes between the National Army and guerrilla rebels. Held at different times by each faction, Nicol s must rely on his wits and faith in the Virgin Mary if he is to survive. Ben tez's novel is both political and spiritual, beautifully illuminating the effects of war on the innocent. Like the Sumpul River of Nicol s's hometown, which alternately rages and soothes, Ben tez's style is both quiet and intense. Her achievement here is considerable; in this brief narrative, she gives voice to the silenced. Those who seek a deeper understanding of Latin American conflict and who appreciate Ben tez's moral stance will find the novel especially gratifying. 6-city author tour. (Feb.) FYI: Ben tez is donating a portion of the proceeds from The Weight of All Things to Rosie O'Donnell's For All Kids Foundation.