Rigoberta Menchu and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans

David Stoll, Author
David Stoll, Author Westview Press $28 (368p) ISBN 978-0-8133-3574-2
Reviewed on: 11/30/1998
Release date: 12/01/1998
Paperback - 360 pages - 978-0-8133-3694-7
Ebook - 385 pages - 978-0-7867-3252-4
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Stoll (Is Latin American Turning Protestant?) has written a revisionist biography of a Guatemalan woman canonized and, according to Stoll, ultimately misunderstood by the academic and political left. He tries to replace what he believes to be the prevailing romantic image of Guatemalan rebellion with something that comes much closer to the murky, morally shaded truth. In 1982, I, Rigoberta Menchu, the autobiography of a Mayan peasant woman, catapulted its author onto the international stage. In 1992, on the symbolically loaded 500th anniversary of Columbus's arrival in the New World, Rigoberta Menchu won the Nobel Peace Prize. Stoll challenges major and minor aspects of Menchu's book, using interviews, conducted over a nine-year period, with soldiers, guerrillas and survivors of violence from Menchu's hometown and surrounding region. Painstakingly delineating the complex cultural and political landscape of Guatemala, Stoll refutes Menchu's ""simplified"" account of land-poor Mayans taking up arms against wealthy landowners, painting instead a picture of peasants--both indigenas and ladinos--who wish only to be left alone but are caught between guerrilla and government armies. Arguing that Menchu's book mythologizes the experience of poor Guatemalans, Stoll explores the implications of such a sentimental view for academia, solidarity activists and Guatemalans themselves. His generally supportive attitude toward the peasants' cause and his denunciation of the army's terror makes his book all the more convincing. This is provocative reading that's sure to shake up assumptions--and rile tempers--across the political spectrum. (Jan.)
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