Manlio Argueta Grace Ingoldby

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Grace Ingoldby

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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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.∗