What You Have Heard is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistanceis a moving piece of non-fiction that gets at the heart of what it means to be human and what it means to be a human who acts. Written by poet Carolyn Forché, the memoir is an account of her time in and relationship with El Salvador and the man who helps her form that relationship: Leonel. Told through a mixed media lens, the book includes narrative, poetry, and photographs to help build the image, scene, and emotion of El Salvador at the time of Forché’s visits there.
Forché is twenty-seven when she gets a mysterious knock on her door and a request from someone named Leonel (the uncle of a friend) to enlighten her about the plight of El Salvador. It’s the late 1970s, and Forché is teaching poetry at a university, she is recently unmarried, living with a roommate, and trying to figure out what to do with a fellowship she’s unexpectedly earned. When Leonel shows up at her door with his two daughters, he wastes no time in sharing the history of oppression in El Salvador and its roots in European invasion. Leonel insists that Forché has a part to play and convinces her to come to El Salvador to see for herself the injustices running rampant through the country.
Forché finds herself agreeing though she doesn’t know why, and this agreement sends her into a reeling and unpredictable journey through a country she will come to love. She sees unsanitary hospitals, dead bodies hacked to pieces, she is chased by death squads, meets priests and nuns who are willing to give their lives for justice, she meets friends and enemies, and all the while she’s still trying to figure out what she’s doing in El Salvador and what her role is in bringing justice.
What You Have Heard is Trueis the product of Forché’s experiences, and ultimately (in addition to an earlier book of poetry she published about the topic) her way of contributing to the narrative, of sharing the story of El Salvador, Leonel, and the friends who lost their lives for freedom. A beautifully written and entirely engaging narrative, What You Have Heard is Truewill make you think differently about your own life and the privilege of having a working toilet, the right to speak your mind, and to live a life without fear of losing it on the side of a road to a machete.
Slated for release by Penguin Random House on March 19, 2019, you can preorder a copy of What You Have Heard is Trueby Carolyn Forché at your local independent bookstore.
FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.