Mirrors of War: Literature and Revolution in El Salvador


151 pages
ISBN 0-919946-56-9





Edited by Gabriela Yanes and others
Translated by Keith Ellis
Reviewed by Terrence Paris

Terrence Paris is Public Services Librarian at Mount St. Vincent
University in Halifax.


Four young Salvadorean writers living in exile in Mexico have compiled an anthology of poems, novel excerpts, and interviews on the theme of revolution in El Salvador. Most of the writers whose works are included were born after 1945; many are now dead, have disappeared, or are in exile. The collection was originally published as Fragmentos de la actual literatura Salvadorena (Querétaro, Mexico, 1983). Keith Ellis, Professor of Spanish at the University of Toronto, has translated the poems and has written an introduction to the English edition. Biographical notes on each of the contributors appear at the end of the anthology.

The editors describe the arrangement of the works as cinematographic, which is defined by Ellis as pieces that, “if read in succession, capture the unfolding images of the war: its historical roots, its physical and psychological effects on the people, the conditions the guerrillas seek to change, the U.S. presence, torture and death-squad activity, guerrilla action.” Popular heroes are evoked — two works celebrate the life of “Martyr” Anatasio Aquino, who led the peasant revolt in 1833, and a poem by Alfonso Quijada Urias laments the murder of Oscar Romero, “the little man who was an archbishop, but / above all a MAN...” Villains include the Green Berets, who train the government soldiers in anti-guerrilla tactics. More ambivalent are the emotions that arise when writers confront the betrayal of Salvadoreans who fight for the Government. “Once they too were people / but with the excuse of hunger and unemployment / they accept a gun / a truncheon and a monthly salary / to defend the starvers and the unemployers” (Roque Dalton). A poem by Rafael Mendoza, “Litanies of the Holy Women,” in which a mother invokes the saints and the whole of natural creation to protect her son (“Saints of the roadway take care of my son! / Protect him always from evil! / Don’t expose him to danger! / Listen to these his mother’s pleas!”) is set against an interview with a former government soldier who stood by while nine teenaged boys and girls were tortured and then put to death under Green Beret supervision.

Too often the voice of the people is missing from commentaries on current events; there is little sense of how war affects the daily lives of peasants and workers. Professor Ellis’s translation effectively conveys to English readers the power and immediacy of the original language, with its frequent use of first-person narration, the evocation of the rhythms and idioms of popular speech, and the images of peasant life in the midst of war’s brutality and disruption.


“Mirrors of War: Literature and Revolution in El Salvador,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/36045.