Rigoberta Menchu And The Story Of All Poor Guatemalans

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9780813336947: Rigoberta Menchu And The Story Of All Poor Guatemalans

This book is about a living legend, a young Guatemalan orphaned by government death squads who said that her odyssey from a Mayan Indian village to revolutionary exile was the story of all poor Guatemalans.” Published in the autobiographical I, Rigoberta Menchú, her words brought the Guatemalan army's atrocities to world attention and propelled her to the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize. Five years later, as her country's civil war ended and truth commissions prepared their reports, the Nobel laureate seemed to repudiate the life story that made her famous. That is not my book,” she said, accusing its editor, Elisabeth Burgos, of distorting her testimony.Why the disclaimer? One reason was the anthropologist interviewing other violence survivors in her home town. In Rigoberta Menchú and The Story of All Poor Guatemalans, David Stoll uses their recollections and archival sources to establish a different portrait of the laureate's village and the violence that destroyed it. Like the imagery surrounding Ché Guevara, Rigoberta's 1982 story served the ideological needs of the urban left and kept alive the grand old vision of Latin American revolution. It shaped the assumptions of foreign human rights activists and the new multicultural orthodoxy in North American universities. But it was not the eyewitness account it purported to be, and enshrining it as the voice of the voiceless caricatured the complex feelings of Guatemalan Indians toward the guerrillas who claimed to represent them. At a time when Rigoberta's people were desperate to stop the fighting, her story became a way to mobilize foreign support for a defeated insurgency.By comparing a cult text with local testimony, Stoll raises troubling questions about the rebirth of the sacred in postmodern academe. Far from being innocent or moral, he argues, organizing scholarship around simplistic images of victimhood can be used to rationalize the creation of more victims. In challenging the accuracy of a widely-hailed account of Third World oppression, this book goes to the heart of contemporary debates over political correctness and identity politics.

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Review:

In 1992, a Guatemalan peasant named Rigoberta Menchú received the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in pressing the civil rights claims of her country's indigenous peoples. A decade earlier, her memoir, I, Rigoberta Menchú, had appeared, and it was immediately welcomed in the nascent canon of multicultural literary and anthropological writings that has since become standard in the academy. In that memoir, Menchú gives a highly specific account of the then-ruling military government's war against tribal, rural people, making claims that she held a leadership role in the resistance, the Guerrilla Army of the Poor. In a work certain to incite controversy, Middlebury College anthropologist David Stoll questions the veracity of those claims, interviewing many of the people who appeared in her memoir and offering contrary testimony.

"In a peasant society ruled by elders, where girls reaching puberty are kept under close watch, it would be very unusual for a person of her age and gender to play the leadership role she describes," Stoll writes. Neither, he argues, was she monolingual and illiterate, as she claimed to be; her presentation of self as "noble savage," he continues, gave her an unwarranted moral authority when she presented stories that she had heard from others as if she had been a participant. His findings, Stoll notes, do not discount the real violence visited by the Guatemalan government on its subjects, although they certainly might give comfort to apologists of the regime. (Interestingly, he notes, Menchú has since disavowed portions of her memoir as the work of the French anthropologist who recorded them.) --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:

David Stoll teaches anthropology at Middlebury College. His other books include Is Latin America Turning Protestant? and Between Two Armies in the Ixil Towns of Guatemala.

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David Stoll
Published by Westview Press (1999)
ISBN 10: 0813336945 ISBN 13: 9780813336947
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Book Description Westview Press, 1999. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0813336945

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