The powerful story of a young poet who becomes an activist through a trial by fire
What You Have Heard is True is a devastating, lyrical, and visionary memoir about a young woman's brave choice to engage with horror in order to help others. Written by one of the most gifted poets of her generation, this is the story of a woman's radical act of empathy, and her fateful encounter with an intriguing man who changes the course of her life.
Carolyn Forché is 27 when the mysterious stranger appears on her doorstep. The relative of a friend, he is a charming polymath with a mind as seemingly disordered as it is brilliant. She's heard rumors from her friend about who he might be: a lone wolf, a communist, a CIA operative, a sharpshooter, a revolutionary, a small coffee farmer, but according to her, no one seemed to know for certain. He has driven from El Salvador to invite Forché to visit and learn about his country. Captivated for reasons she doesn't fully understand, she accepts and becomes enmeshed in something beyond her comprehension.
Together they meet with high-ranking military officers, impoverished farm workers, and clergy desperately trying to assist the poor and keep the peace. These encounters are a part of his plan to educate her, but also to learn for himself just how close the country is to war. As priests and farm-workers are murdered and protest marches attacked, he is determined to save his country, and Forché is swept up in his work and in the lives of his friends. Pursued by death squads and sheltering in safe houses, the two forge a rich friendship, as she attempts to make sense of what she's experiencing and establish a moral foothold amidst profound suffering. This is the powerful story of a poet's experience in a country on the verge of war, and a journey toward social conscience in a perilous time.
What the critics say
“In this galvanizing memoir, [Forché] recounts her political awakening under fire with a poet’s lyrical acuity and a storyteller’s drama.... Forché recounts her frightening and transformative encounters with scorching specificity and portrays her brilliant and courageous mentor and other resistance fighters with wonder and gratitude. This clarion work of remembrance, this indelible testimony to a horrific battle in the unending struggle for human rights, justice, and peace, stands with the dispatches of Isabel Allende, Eduardo Galeano, Pablo Neruda, and Elena Poniatowska.” (Booklist, starred review)
"Episode by episode, dodging death squads, Forché builds a story filled with violence and intrigue worthy of Graham Greene around which a river of blood flows - doing so, unstanched, with the avid support of America's leaders." (Kirkus Reviews)
“Carolyn Forché asks us not only to hear, but to see, the scale of human and moral devastation in El Salvador. For those of us who are citizens and residents of the United States, Forché’s powerful, moving, and disturbing memoir also demands that we recognize our country’s responsibility for the atrocities committed by the El Salvadoran military. As is the case with her poetry, Forché’s nonfiction asserts the need for truth - in our politics, in our writing, in our witnessing.” (Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer)
What members say
Cinematic true story about learning to truly SEE
I cannot recall reading another novel with so much narrative tension and dramatic contrast: the deepest of love and admiration for fellow human beings, set in the midst of unspeakable horrors in Central America. Carolyn discovers and speaks about these horrors because they are key to understanding how our choices at home directly affect fellow sapiens in "far-off lands." It's a cinematic non-fiction cautionary tale, carefully worded to lay bare the emotional truth of how we are connected, in a way that only a poet could deliver. The audiobook version is great because Forché performs the poem in her own voice. Ultimately, the story reminds us that we are all not as insulated from each other as we often think we are. Understanding this now seems more important than ever.
- Renee Aubuchon
A book that bridges the history of El Salvador and the United States from the past into the current moment.
This is what it sounds like to give witness to the truth without looking away, without denial, without flinching.