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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 409

Manilo Argueta's novel One Day of Life is hard to read. It doesn't have big words or complicated themes or a convoluted plot; it's a difficult text because it tells the story of life under a repressive, violent dictatorship. In this way, it's similar to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's story One Day...

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Manilo Argueta's novel One Day of Life is hard to read. It doesn't have big words or complicated themes or a convoluted plot; it's a difficult text because it tells the story of life under a repressive, violent dictatorship. In this way, it's similar to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's story One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. In that one, though, the violence is mostly psychological. Here, in Argueta's novel, the violence is in your face, relentless and overpowering. We won't summarize the book's contents here. Rather, we'll analyze it. You should read it, and you should check out the excellent study guide available on this website.

In 1979, junior officers of the Salvadoran army deposed the violent and repressive regime of President Carols Romero. That coup d'etat set off a civil war, in which opposing sides were backed by the US and the USSR. That made El Salvador a proxy battleground in the Cold War, which is why the Salvadorans involved became irreconcilable. Left-wing and communist insurgents backed by the Soviet Union fought right-wing paramilitary groups allied with the army and backed by America. Death squads, child soldiers, and atrocities were commonplace.

Into this whirlwind came One Day of Life. It was published in 1980, the first year of the civil war, so it wasn't about the war. It was about living with the physical and emotional trauma inflicted on ordinary people by the dictatorships and broken politics of the post-Second-World-War period. It was certainly apropos of the time, and it has since become associated with the civil war, but it was more about that war's antecedents.

The story's central irony is emblematic of El Salvador's plight. Lupe and Jose work on a wealthy landowner's plantation, and they become involved in the leftist resistance, which destroys their livelihood and their family. You can't tell oppressed people not to fight, but when fighting destroys what they were trying to save, you have to ask why. That's the big question Argueta's novel doesn't really address. In this, it's typical of other stories to come out of Central America in that period, such as I, Rigoberta Menchu. They depict the suffering of peasants and well-meaning opponents of dictatorial governments, but they don't resolve their central themes or conflicts. That might just be the most important observation of all, because the countries of Central America turned out exactly this way. The civil wars are over, but the oppression and despair and violence and resistance continue.

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