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Silence on the Mountain: Stories of Terror, Betrayal, and Forgetting in Guatemala First Printing Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0618221394
ISBN-10: 0618221395
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Written in the vein of a Robert Kaplan travel journal, this profound book traces the history of Guatemala's 36-year internal struggle through personal interviews that recount the heart-wrenching stories of plantation owners, army officials, guerrillas and the wretchedly poor peasants stuck in the middle. Wilkinson's narrative unfolds gradually, beginning with his quest to unlock the mysteries of the short-lived 1952 Law of Agrarian Reform, which saw the redistribution of land to the working class. He goes on to explain many of the causes and consequences of the country's political and social problems. At one point, Wilkinson vividly describes how the entire town of Sacuchum uncharacteristically gathered to recount for him and thus record for the outside world how the army raped, tortured and massacred members of the community because they were believed to have supported the guerrillas. Much of what's revealed in Wilkinson's account of the country's trials is hard to stomach, especially his description of CIA involvement in Guatemala. In many instances, Wilkinson's personal story gets in the way of the larger account he is trying to tell, and the book becomes more about him (he was just out of college in 1993, when he made the trip) than about events in Guatemala. However, this book is both easy to read and compelling, and Wilkinson's little self-indulgences are easily forgivable given the powerful subject matter and how well it is told by Wilkinson, now a lawyer with Human Rights Watch. B&w photos.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

A member of Human Rights Watch, Wilkinson considers Guatemala's 36-year civil war and the 200,000 lives it has cost.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Printing edition (September 26, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618221395
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618221394
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #714,035 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Daniel Wilkinson's "Silence on the Mountain: Stories of Terror, Betrayal, and Forgetting in Guatemala" is a balanced and well-written chronicle of State terror. The author dedicates many years, abandons law school and runs up credit card debt to research and write a glaring historical account of the struggle between large landowners and the poor in Guatemala.
Wilkinson's early focus is on the 1950 presidential victory of Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán. He then explains the daring 1952 implementation of a far-reaching Agrarian Reform law called Degree 900. The author reaches out to Guatemalan students who favored the reforms and declared that peace, "required greater equality and greater equality required a redistribution of land in the countryside."
Wilkinson then flashes back to 1892 when twenty-three-year-old Friedrich Endler leaves Germany for Central America. Endler eventually becomes a large coffee plantation owner and it is through him the author explains the historical struggle with poor illiterate workers who provide the labor that builds a coffee nation.
From there Wilkinson flash forwards to 1954 and the carefully choreographed CIA overthrow of democratically elected President Guzmán. Shortly thereafter agricultural students protested, "We who receive an education paid for by the people have a debt to the people! We who have the power to analyze have the responsibility to criticize! An agronomist should carry, in one hand, a machete...and, in the other, a machine gun."
The remainder of the book is a painstaking tale of documenting the State terror of the 1980's when 200,000 Guatemalans perished. Quite frankly, parts of this book are brutal.
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Format: Paperback
So you know that the civil war in Guatemala was between the military and the guerillas with, tragically, so many of Guatemala's indigenous population caught in the middle. You might even know that lack of land and racist policy drove the war. But do you really know how it came to be and why?

This is what this book will do for you. It will take you deep into the politics and events that led to the bloodshed that was most apparent during the 1980's. It will reveal why Guatemala is still bleeding from this war. It will show you why so many Guatemalans are for the most part silent about what really went down during that war.

Silence that spurred Daniel Wilkinson, a young Harvard graduate from the States, to hop on a ratty motorcycle and travel throughout the country interviewing countless numbers of people in a quest for the truth of what went on on the mountain, and why there has been silence there for so long. This book isn't stuffy, it's not authoritative. In fact, most of the time it is apparent that Wilkinson doesn't know what he is doing half of the time he is in Guatemela. Which makes him very real as a person. You kind of travel along with him, it's THAT good. Wilkinson doesn't go for shock value in the retelling of his events. His is a firm, quiet truth and he tells his tale, his experience in this book, focusing on why getting to the truth is nearly as horrifying as the truth itself.

Pick this one up for a better, deeper understanding of the civil war in Guatemala. As you read it in your comortable house your perception on life just might change. I know mine did.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
time and again i let myself be surprised by the atrocious acts committed or supported by my government. the hypocricy of the CIA and of US foreign policy in general is nothing new, but this book tells guatemala's story from a very personal angle. the repressive practices of the post-50's guatemalan government are shocking and important to understand in and of themselves, along with the US involvement in those practices. but what is most outstanding about this book is the human face wilkinson puts on the tragedy. in his travels on a harvard fellowship, he meets many of the major players in the drama, as well as the ordinary people who suffered from the violence. the result is a book not entirely sympathetic to the guerrilla fighters, not entirely condemning of the guatemalan government, but entirely focused on the outcomes of the civil war that are still being faced by the rural poor in the guatemalan highlands. we are responsible as us citizens -- if we are us citizens, that is :) for understanding this story, since our government is largely responsible for supporting the violence over so many decades.

also, this is an amazing read. it's intelligent, funny, well-written all around. it's not entirely chronological, but more like a travel journal-cum-historical flashbacks. i read it in preparation for a trip to guatemala, and am so glad that i did. everyone should read this book.
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Format: Hardcover
Daniel Wilkinson's Silence on the Mountain is easily one of the best nonfiction titles I've ever read. I am a big fan of first person journalism -- books like God of the Rodeo (Angola prison rodeo) and We Regret to Inform You We are About to Be Killed with our families (Rwanda) -- and this book is among the best of the genre. Wilkinson's account reads like a novel -- he effectively reveals a history that I'm a little ashamed to have known nothing about. It's interesting both as history, but also as memoir -- he does a good job of relating his own story (why he went to Guatemala, how he got interested in the project) but doesn't let his own story overwhelm the history he wants to recount. I highly recommend this good, quick, informative, read. It's made me want to learn more about Guatemalan history.
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