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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AN ELOQUENT VOICE FOR THE INNOCENT, February 16, 2001
War, as they say, is hell. It is hell compounded when endured by a nine-year-old boy who sees his mother killed. In later years he describes that moment as "Like water pouring over stone, that is how she slipped away from me."
Ms. Benitez, who unforgettably drew Latin American life in "A Place Where The Sea Remembers" (1993) and "Bitter Grounds" (1997) now turns to a chaotic El Salvador. Born of both fact and imagination, "The Weight Of All Things" depicts that country's 1980s violence as seen through the eyes of Nicholas de la Virgen Veras.
Nicholas lives with his grandfather, Tata, in the small village of El Retorno, a place of cane and mud buildings "whitewashed with hopefulness." Acceding to his mother's request, he joins her in the city for the funeral of a slain archbishop. It is here that mass murder takes place, and his mother dies shielding the boy with her body.
Clinging to the belief that she still lives despite having seen her limp form dragged away, Nicholas begins a painful and dangerous search for her. His quest takes him throughout the ravaged Salvadoran landscape, into the hands of guerrilla rebels, the Popular Liberation Forces, who have commandeered his village. Nationalist soldiers, the Guardia, will later ransack El Retorno and take the boy captive.
To escape the army compound takes all the wily courage and faith Nicholas can muster.
With "The Weight Of All Things," a scorching but beautiful narrative, Ms. Benitez speaks for the innocent, those caught between forces who would eradicate all in their blind quest for power.
When Nicholas is wounded he longs for a place "where there are no guns, no soldiers, no guerrilleros." So does the world.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, moving ....., July 31, 2001
Jan McGreger "janmcalex" (Humboldt, TN United States) - See all my reviews
Sandra Benitez has woven a haunting tale of a young boy caught in the war-ravaged reality of El Salvador in 1980.
Nicolas Veras had a wonderful mother. She shielded his body from the gunfire of an attack by guerillas at Archbishop Romero's funeral and she passed on to him her earnest faith in the Virgin Mary. After her death, Nicholas must find his way alone to his grandfather's rural home in the El Salvadoran mountains. He finds that the national military has bombed his village, destroying homes, businesses and the church. From the debris, Nicolas removes the slightly damaged statue of Mary and carries it with him to the farm that has been overtaken by pro-Communist rebels.
From here, the story takes flight. Nicolas and his grandfather are compelled to cooperate with the guerillas. Nicolas participates in smuggling fresh blood and medical supplies to the guerilla camp. He is later captured by the army. Other frightening events occur but young Nicolas feels little fear because, miraculously, the statue of Mary comes alive and speaks advice to Nicolas, giving both instructions and encouragement as he precariously maneuvers between the warring factions of ruthless guerillas and the corrupt and equally ruthless army.
The words flow gently in this sadly beautiful novel. I am usually repulsed by stories involving violence or cruelty towards children; however, this story is so adroitly written with a mixture of harsh truth and tenderness that I couldn't turn away.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Benitez lets the truth be known about El Salvador, April 24, 2001
Some don't know the truth of what happened in El Salvador and may be shocked to find that the US Government funded (sending aid in the billions) this war. They gave a corrupt government the power, money, ammunition, training, even US Soldiers, and their approval in the war against the poor, common people of El Salvador. They are in part responsible for the deaths of countless innocents, including women and children - who were caught in the middle. In selfish self-interest and fear of communism, the US caused so much damage that this little country has been scarred for life. Benitez lends a sympathetic ear to the people who deserve it most - she tells the story which often goes untold - and she tells it in such a way that your heart will not go untouched. Benitez is a real asset to the writing world. She can tell a political and tragic story with the most poetic words and the most beautiful symbolism and imagery... I just want to thank her for another great book and most of all, for letting the truth be known.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Weight of All Things..., February 11, 2004
By A Customer
As I was searching for something totally different, I stumbled across this book. Being a little skeptic about a writer that did not "grow up" in the region, I did not have a high level of confidence that the essence of the Salvadoran conflict could be captured. Nevertheless, I decided to buy this book. I was very surprised of not only the author's knowledge of the tragic events, but her ability to describe the environment (surroundings) in which these events were happening to the point that a native, like myself, was able to visualize the exact setting. In addition, the author did not get caught in the political analysis of this tragic era in the history of El Salvador, but truly described the feelings of the great majority of Salvadorans, which were truly caught in the middle, through the wonderful story of Nico. There was no vilifying of either the left or the right. A minor reference to the Salvadoran-Honduran war which hints at the reason for this war to be a soccer match was the only discrepancy I found. Even though it is a popular belief that this war was fought as a result of this match, scholars note and understand the reason to be mounting political tensions due to border disputes as the real reason. The author mentioned this fact in one part of the book, but made reference to the soccer match as being the reason for the war in another part of the book. Considering all this, this is an excellent novel. Kudos to Ms. Benitez
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Moving, June 12, 2001
Kindle Customer "aec20" (Baltimore, MD United States) - See all my reviews
Benitez does a wonderful job with this novel. As the depiction of the life of an average child during the tumultuous revolution in San Salvador in the 80s, Benitez combines the ability to remain non-judgemental with the innocence of a child. She has thus created a story rich in emotion, but unbiased in fact. In an attempt to remain bi-partisan, Benitez does her best to side with neither party in the war. Instead, she sides with the nation's citizens, and against the war in general.
The Weight of All Things is ingeniously written through the eyes of a young boy; A young boy who can see no evil government, nor the good in revolution. A young boy who can only experience the loss of war, not its rewards. His story is compelling enough to read the novel, but Benitez layers on top of emotion with vivid descriptions of the events in San Salvador at the time, and together, we as readers can feel the story-line unfold in our lap. Rising as falling as Benitez commands.
The Weight of all things was a wonderful novel, and I can not wait to see Benitez' writing progress in future novels. If for no other reason, read this book because it is refreshing and different from anything you've read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stunning narrative - at once both fierce and tender, February 27, 2001
THE WEIGHT OF ALL THINGS is Sandra Benitez's gripping third novel. Unlike the epic 'Bitter Grounds', which spanned the lives of three generations of women across almost half a century, THE WEIGHT OF ALL THINGS is a six-week snapshot in the life of nine-year old Nicolás de la Virgen Veras, sandwiched between two real events in the harsh backdrop of El Salvador's civil war.
In and around the humble two-roomed hut his grandfather calls home - a two hour hike (the difficult terrain is made easier by Nicolás' sturdy rubber-soled boots) from the village of El Retorno ("whitewashed in hopefulness"), the scenes are so finely crafted that the reader can almost smell the wood smoke and "the odour of brewing coffee," or squint with Nicolás as he emerges from his hiding place (a cave) into the bright light of an April day. These scenes we see through the eyes of a child; we might even be only four feet tall. In others, our imagination - and what we know from historical fact - is left to fill in the gaps: the scorched earth, and the stench of human carnage left by the helicopter gun-ships.
Separation is a central theme running through the book - from the opening pages when our courageous boy hero ("I am a lion now") begins the search for his mother, and again when he is dragged away from his doting grandfather ('Tata'). Nicolás' faith keeps him going (and alive), as others much his senior drop their guard and fall around him. He confides in his mother's spirit, gaining strength from the symbolism of the contents of his backpack: the "little boat" that was his mother's lost shoe and the chipped statue of 'La Virgen Milagrosa' ("another [gash], like a tiny teardrop, marred the cheek under one eye") salvaged from the bombed out shell of the village church. There are reunions - with Tata, by the empty niche (their chosen 'meeting place') in that same ruin - but not the reunion Nicolás seeks most of all.
There are two particular moments of poignancy in the story where his solitude brought an ache to my heart: once when writing to his mother in el señor Alvarado's lilac house in Tejutla (a kindly man who becomes the boy's role model), and another, as he sleeps on a petate under the umbrella tree in the army compound soon after his capture, where he seeks comfort in the company of the guard dogs. It is there that it hits him - the realisation that his mother is dead. We feel his innocence slip another notch, as it does from one short chapter to the next.
There are moments of almost dream-like tranquillity, like when Nicolás allows the lazy waters of the Sumpul river to flow over his prone body; like when Capitán (his grandfather's rusty-coloured dog) slumbers beneath Tata's hammock. Then there are the huddled displaced masses on the riverbank bordering two nations readying themselves for the crossing. These pauses, while enough for us to gain an impression of the beautiful but poverty-stricken and war-ravaged Salvadoran countryside, prove the calm before the storm. Soon enough, the world is turned upside down again, armies slaughter their own brothers and sisters and once benign waters surge and flow red with the tears and blood of the innocent.
Nicolás and his grandfather retain their dignity even when they endure provocation and hardship from soldiers and guerrilleros. The boy first befriends the rebel group who commandeer his grandfather's rancho, and later bides his time in the army garrison, meticulously planning his escape. He is always respectful (he tells the truth), and clever (not the whole story, but the truth). For those caught in-between, the burden was great ("we are caught in the middle", Tata had said), they were all men - and women - with guns, but like 'Bitter Grounds' before it, THE WEIGHT OF ALL THINGS does leave the reader on a note of optimism.
Sandra Benitez has cemented her position as my favourite author writing contemporary fiction about the realities of Latin American life. Like Archbishop Romero, whose funeral marks the beginning of Nicolás' odyssey, Benitez is a 'voice for the voiceless'. Share this book with your friends.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars War through the eyes of a 9-year-old soldier, March 17, 2004
Craig Wood (Menlo Park, CA) - See all my reviews
"The Weight of All Things" is a somber story following the life of a 9-year-old boy during the 1980s El Salvadoran Civil War. The book cuts to the chase, beginning with a description of the shooting of Lety Veras, the mother of Nicolas, right there on page 1. The ensuing chapters follow young Nico as he searches for his lost mother, returns to his grandfather's farm, and eventually accepts Lety's death.
Benitez's novel is filled with descriptions of guerilla warfare, civil unrest, and the hardships of peasant life in a war-torn country. Although the book is hardly an upper, it finishes with an encouraging epilogue, and manages to depict the challenges of wartime survival without being too emotional or political. Benitez slips in a few comments about the senseless nature of civil war, without haranguing on this all-too-obvious point. "The Weight of All Things" is definitely a quick weekend read. Chances are, you'll learn something about the El Salvador conflict, and in the process gain renewed appreciation for the easier lives that most of us live.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book by a maturing writer, May 28, 2001
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This is the third novel of Sandra Benitez, and it is a pleasure to follow her maturation as a writer. Her first novel, A Place Where the Sea Remembers, was short and simple in concept, but utterly charming. Her second, Bitter Grounds, was more ambitious and heavily political, even partisan. While well written it ended up feeling more polemical than charming. This book strikes a better balance, being charming and nuanced in a way Bitter Grounds didn't manage while still employing a much larger canvass than A Place Where the Sea Remembers. I won't bother with a "book report", there are a couple here already. But this is a book worth reading, and Benitez is an author worth following.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Writing and Very Moving Story, January 18, 2007
After reading this book I ordered all of Sandra Benitez's other novels. The writing was gripping from the very first sentence ..."it would be clear it was a bullet to the head that killed her." Emotionally intense, historically and culturally correct and a story that both warmed and broke my heart at the same time. This is a very realistic story of innocent people caught up in the middle of political turmoil.
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4.0 out of 5 stars meaningful, July 31, 2005
This is a reenactment of a true story of a boy growing up in the turbulent time in El Salvador. He is caught between the guerrilla and national army, used by each one when they need him. He witnesses terrible atrocities and faces death multiple times. It is a narrative of the tragedy at El Mozote. I really enjoyed the book; I thought it gave great perspective to a terrible reality that many have had to face in Latin America. It proved both thought provoking and entertaining.
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The Weight of All Things
The Weight of All Things by Sandra Benitez (Paperback - February 20, 2002)
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