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Reviewed by:
  • Writing Toward Hope: The Literature of Human Rights in Latin America
  • Ann De León
Marjorie Agosín, ed. Writing Toward Hope: The Literature of Human Rights in Latin America. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 2007. 645 pages.

In Writing Toward Hope: The Literature of Human Rights in Latin America, Marjorie Agosín has compiled an impressive and diverse collection of poems, plays, essays, personal testimonies and art-work on human rights created by fifty-seven of Latin America’s most well-known (and unknown) writers and artists of the twentieth century.

Chapter 1 “Bearing Witness in the Dark” primarily includes testimonial first-person narratives from authors who were imprisoned and tortured. Powerful testimonies include the works of Jacobo Timerman (dealing with imprisonment and anti-Semitism), Emma Sepúlveda (the power of the body to resist and subvert torture), Hernán Valdés and Gladys Díaz Armijo (the failure to reconstruct a traumatic past and violated body, and the importance to speak out), Nora Strejilevich (torture and the estrangement from the self), Carlos Liscano (the power of words to represent the unspeakable), Reinaldo Arenas (persecution because of sexual preference) and Angelina Muñiz-Huberman (“a symbolic vision of imprisonment” representing the unspeakable extermination of Jewish children in concentration camps).

Devoted exclusively to plays, Chapter 2 “Guardians and the Guarded” explores the power dynamics between prisoner and torturer, the im/possibility of communication and reconciliation. One of the main questions addressed is “what happens when torturer and victim are both set free and have to coexist in a civil society?” (100). Marco Antonio De La Parra’s play, “Lo crudo, lo cocido, lo podrido” criticizes some of the absurd and chilling interrogation strategies used on prisoners during dictatorships. Some of these plays also explore the question of turning the tables between prisoner and interrogator as in Ariel Dorfman’s “la muerte y la doncella” and Mario Benedetti’s “Pedro y el Capitán.”

Chapter 3 “Voices of a Silenced Memory” represents one of the most powerful selections of this anthology as it deals with poems, personal testimonies, and fiction about human rights violations towards indigenous peoples and African slaves—from the Conquest to the present. Margara Russotto’s poem “El manual de los inquisidores (1607)” highlights the act of mutilating and twisting language to extract testimony from victims (be them from military [End Page 415] interrogators or inquisitors). An excerpt from Rosario Castellano’s novel “Balún Canán” addresses the loss of language and memory experienced by the indigenous population in Chiapas. This same theme is echoed in Victor Montejo’s poem “Interrogatorios de los ancestros” where the loss of indigenous identity in Guatemala is tied with the theft of their material cultural legacy present in archeological remains and códices. Nancy Morejon’s poem “Mujer negra” denounces the legacy of slavery in Latin America, but also expresses the power of reclaiming one’s strength and dignity. Pablo Neruda’s “Los Libertadores” highlights Father Bartolomé de las Casas fight to denounce human rights abuses in colonial Latin America. One of the most powerful narratives in this chapter are Claudia Bernardi’s field notes on the massacre at El Mozote. Working with a team of forensic anthropologists Bernardi must speak for those who could not by reading the narrative of bones in a mass grave consisting primarily of children.

The texts included in Chapter 4 “Where Fear Nests” deal with the creation of cultures of fear in repressive regimes which result in violence, domestic abuse, and even the extremes of self-censorship and death/disappearance. Reina Roffé’s “La noche en blanco” recounts the ironic twists of fate and the repetition of history—from Paris’s occupation by the Nazis to Argentina’s disappeared. Luisa Valenzuela’s story “Los censores” presents how an individual’s attempt to subvert the repressive system by joining it backfires. Marta Traba’s “Conversación al sur” captures the power and dignity of the mothers who defiantly marched in the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina. Rigoberta Menchú’s powerful testimony recounts the violence exerted upon indigenous peoples in Guatemala. Susana Rotker’s essay addresses the effects of globalization in Latin American cities...


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pp. 415-416
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