Manlio Argueta Grace Ingoldby - Essay

Grace Ingoldby

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Argueta's 'authorities', like Kundera's, cannot joke or smile lest they be revealed as too absurd. One Day of Life is the story of Lupe, grandmother at 40, a peasant woman from Chalate in El Salvador….

The story is a sad one, delicately told, revealing not only Lupe's fate as she is caught in the cross-fire of civil war but also (and as remote from our understanding) the peasant life of birds and flowers and dust, the colours of a country woven in a blanket, infant mortality, hunger, water, a precious commodity offered as a symbolic, superstitious gift to friends and enemies alike.

The mirthless authorities have their say: boys equipped with fast philosophy and automatics who do well to overlook the fact that they rose from the ranks of the people they now subdue…. Well-fed and backed by 'the most civilized country in the world' (guess who?), they are brainwashed into believing that the people have been brainwashed too: 'Who is our special enemy? The people.' Lupe's story tells of the silent erosion of normal behaviour, the effects of intimidation and terror that mark, as in Northern Ireland now, a prolonged period of civil war, and of lessons learnt the hard way: Christian goodness must no longer be confused with resignation; stoicism in the face of horror (her son's severed head on a pole) is not only dignified but advisable—never show your fear. Rights are something that Lupe must learn to understand and to fight for, a new way of enduring, a significant if small-scale step forward.

Grace Ingoldby, "Lessons in Life," in New Statesman, Vol. 107, No. 2766, March 23, 1984, p. 27.∗