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A Miracle, A Universe: Settling Accounts with Torturers Reprint Edition

7 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0226893945
ISBN-10: 0226893944
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Editorial Reviews Review

"When individuals are being tortured and everyone knows about it and no one seems able to do a thing to help," Lawrence Weschler writes, "primordial mysteries at the root of human community come under assault as well." Overthrowing oppressive regimes is not enough to resolve the crisis; the persecutors must also acknowledge what they have done. "True forgiveness is achieved in community.... It is history working itself out as grace, but it can only be accomplished in truth."

A Miracle, A Universe brings together two long nonfiction pieces, originally published in the New Yorker, which examine how citizens of Brazil and Uruguay have worked to "settle accounts" with their former torturers. Weschler uses historical background to supplement his powerful eyewitness reportage and interviews, bearing witness to those who seek to break through official denials of government atrocity. The efforts to build a democratic society in which people can have faith have rarely been portrayed with as much immediacy and insight as Weschler brings to these articles.

From Publishers Weekly

After the demise of Brazil's repressive military regime, a group of ex-prisoners, all former torture victims, banded together to document their captors' atrocities--arbitrary arrests and "disappearances," the torture of thousands, murders. Their 1985 book, which holds the U.S. responsible for helping to create Brazil's dictatorship, became a bestseller in that country. In the first half of his dispassionate report, New Yorker staff writer Wechsler records his conversations with the survivors. Brazil's one-time torturers, he notes, have risen to positions of power. In the book's second half, he describes Uruguay's massive but unsuccessful petition campaign--spearheaded by ex-torture victims and human rights activists--to bring to justice the toppled Uruguayan military regime's butchers. Though Wechsler underestimates the U.S. role in reversing Uruguay's democracy, he points out that the State Department issued bland assurances that the police state in Uruguay was a temporary response to an emergency situation.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 322 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; Reprint edition (July 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226893944
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226893945
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #644,988 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 12, 1999
Format: Paperback
By focusing on two countries, Uruguay and Brazil, and a legacy of human rights abuses during military rule, Lawrence Wechsler illustrates in compelling fashion the difficulties any nation has in reconciling justice with healing.
This book is carefully researched and is absorbing to read. Wechsler skillfully portrays the goals of those seeking justice and accountability and contrasts them with those seeking to alter history or seek a reconciliation that ignores justice.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By E. Hawkins on March 12, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is a magnificent book about a terrible subject. From the sixties through till the mid-Eighties, almost the entire continent of South America fell under the sway, or rather the boot, of military dictatorship. The dictatorships were, without exception but with varying degrees of vigour, active in torturing political prisoners. Weschler does a masterful job in describing the various forces that contributed to the overthrow of democracy throughout the Southern cone (not the least of which was American insistence on training Southern militaries and police forces in counter-insurgency in the hope that Castro's example would not spread further south), but the book's focus is not only the depravities of the two regimes -- Brazil and Uruguay -- but on the efforts of survivors of torture and imprisonment to make their oppressors see and recognise their evils.
The first section, 'A miracle, a universe' recounts the incredible efforts that went into collating and publishing the account Brasil: Nunca Mais (Brazil: Never Again), a book which set forth the policies of systematic torture and denial of due process practiced by Brazil's dictators. The truly remarkable aspect of the work was that all the material was obtained from the regime's own archives, over a period of several years, and at great personal risk to the authors. It's an inspiring story, and one that demonstrates the power of the written word.
The second and longer part of the book, 'The reality of the world', centres of the efforts of a committe in Uruguay to call those accused of torture during the country's decade-plus period of military dictatorship to account.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By kubanna on March 13, 2006
Format: Paperback
On March 15, 1979, General João Baptista Figuereido assumed power as the fifth military president of Brazil and extended an amnesty for all political crimes, both by state security agents and by opponents to the regime. While this amnesty assured there would be no trials for human rights abusers, ironically, it provided an opportunity for the most serious movement to challenge the practice of torture by the regime itself, that of the Brasil Nunca Mais project. It is the story of this project that Lawrence Weschler narrates in the first half of this book. Weschler explains how, during a very limited period of access, the members of the Brasil Nunca Mais project team were able to photocopy the carefully catalogued archives of the Supreme Military Court in order to make them public to the world. They filled a void in Brazil in taking up activities that the state never would- mainly that of telling the truth about this dark period in Brazilian history. Of course, the resulting report, Brasil Nunca Mais, speaks for itself. But Weschler's account of how it came to be is illuminating and as relevant today as when it was first published. It is particularly poignant that only recently, in November of 2005, did the Brazilian government move to declassify dictatorship-era files. Perhaps this signals that the Brazilian government is willing to fully engage with the legacies of the dictatorship, but for the time being Weschler's book offers one of the few windows on this shameful past.

The section on Uruguay is also thoroughly engaging and recounts all the anxieties of a citizen-initiated campaign to bring former torturers to justice. Weschler's skillful eyewitness accounts make the reader feel as if the petition drive were happening right now, as opposed to two decades ago.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By ewomack VINE VOICE on October 23, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An incredible book that describes a few horrific cultures of dictatorship that will hopefully be forever unrecognizable to people in the United States. The most fascinating parts of the book are the theories of how the dicatorships came to be (the Tupamaros in Uruguay and the backlash of the military, etc.); even more incredible is how the leaders of the respective dictatorships stayed in power out of necessary compromises with the government(some are still in power, which will be difficult to swallow after reading this book). It is, in the end, a hopeful book with a warning: "¡Nunca más!" The book asks "how do you come to terms with those that tortured?" (especially in the incredible situation of passing someone who tortured you in the street, described by someone in the book) Another point the author makes is that there can be forgiveness after such horror, and if there's not there may just be more torture. A very worthwhile read, but not for the squeamish.
Lastly, the book provides a good introduction to a much neglected country: Uruguay. There are very few accounts in English of Uruguay, and this is probably the best I've seen. I have also visited Uruguay; it is a fascinating country and well worth a visit. You get a real appreciation for the friendliness of the people after reading what a lot of them went through during "la dictadura."
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