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