Manlio Argueta Jim Miller - Essay

Jim Miller

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Americans have long seemed content to read novels about themselves: about the absurdities of affluence, the anxiety of adultery, the pitfalls of "midlife crisis." But tastes are changing. Gabriel García Márquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude" introduced readers to a strange new world of magical happenings and political extremity….

["One Day of Life"] recounts 12 hours in the life of a womán named Lupe. She is a 44-year-old matriarch who manages a small plot of farmland on the outskirts of Chalatenango, a bus ride away from the capital city of San Salvador. Much of the book consists of her meandering thoughts as she mulls over the color of the dawn, the freedom of birds in flight, the surprising militance of the local priests since they began saying mass in Spanish instead of Latin. Pious, self-reliant and stubborn, Lupe harbors growing doubts about the necessity of the poverty she endures.

Lupe's reveries are shattered by the appearance of National Guardsmen who are searching for her granddaughter, Adolfina. Through a series of interior monologues set in the minds of Adolfina, her mother, a friend and the "authorities," we learn that the youngster is an activist in a new peasant alliance. Though she is only 15, Adolfina has already participated in a demonstration at a bank, watched the Army retaliate with a blood bath and suffered through the unexplained "disappearance" of her father.

The book's conclusion is gruesome, its message about as subtle as a clenched fist. "They"—as the guardsmen are called—are mindless macho brutes. The poor villagers, in stark contrast, are pious, industrious, upright. In case anyone has missed the point, Lupe declares that "we're all innocent. The only ones at fault for the bad things that are happening are the authorities."

Despite such crude moralizing, "One Day of Life" does document a side of the conflict in El Salvador that is rarely reported in America—the squalor, government terror and understandable thirst for vengeance that turn peasants into revolutionaries. (p. 87)

Jim Miller, "Listening to Foreign Voices," in Newsweek, Vol. CII, No. 13, September 26, 1983, pp. 87-8.∗