Silence on the Mountain

9780822333685: Paperback
Release Date: 20th August 2004

14 b&w photos

Number of Pages: 392

Series American Encounters/Global Interactions

Duke University Press Books

Silence on the Mountain

Stories of Terror, Betrayal, and Forgetting in Guatemala

Paperback / £20.99

new in paperback
Silence on the Mountain is a virtuoso work of reporting and a masterfully plotted narrative tracing the history of Guatemala’s thirty-six-year internal war, a conflict that claimed the lives of some 200,000 people, the vast majority of whom died (or were “disappeared”) at the hands of the U.S.-backed military government. Written by Daniel Wilkinson, a young human rights worker, the story begins in 1993, when the author decides to investigate the arson of a coffee plantation’s manor house by a band of guerrillas. The questions surrounding this incident soon broaden into a complex mystery whose solution requires Wilkinson to dig up the largely unwritten history of the country’s recent civil war, following its roots back to a land reform movement that was derailed by a U.S.-sponsored military coup in 1954 and to the origins of a plantation system that put Guatemala’s Mayan Indians to work picking coffee beans for the American and European markets.

Decades of terror-inspired fear have led the Guatemalans to adopt a survival strategy of silence so complete that it verges on collective amnesia. The author’s great triumph is that he finds a way for people to tell their stories, and it is through these stories—dramatic, intimate, heartbreaking—that we are shown the anatomy of a thwarted revolution that has relevance not only to Guatemala but also to countless places around the world where terror has been used as a political tool.

I. A House Burned
The Owner 3
The Student 7
The Battlefield 11
Exhumation 19
II. Ashes Fell
Rumor 29
Travelogue 32
Natural History 42
Bildungsroman 48
Revelation 56
Decree 65
III. A Future Was Buried
A Dangerous Question 83
The Law That Would Change the World 157
Betrayal 168
Burials 180
IV. And They Were the Eruption
The Savages 193
Sacuhum 199
The Guerrillas 217
The Politicians 252
The Terrorist 307
The Defeated 337
The Storytellers 350
List of Names 361
Notes on Sources 362
Selected Bibliography 367
Acknowledgments 372
Index 374

Daniel Wilkinson is Managing Director, Americas Division at Human Rights Watch.

Silence on the Mountain has the seductive allure and vivid characters of the finest fiction and the penetration of the most elegant journalism. Mr. Wilkinson’s painstaking work has crucial lessons for our government’s future role not only in Latin America but in the entire world. Above all, his book serves literature’s deepest impulse: to bring forth truth out of silence.”

The 2003 PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction citation

“This is an extraordinary tale, and an extremely well-told one. Written like a modern explorer’s journal, Silence on the Mountain is the account of Daniel Wilkinson’s self-appointed mission to uncover dark secrets in a shady corner of Guatemala. With humility, humor, honesty . . . he has given us a rare and intimate understanding of how this achingly beautiful country became one of the Western Hemisphere’s most brutalized places.”

Jon Lee Anderson, author of
Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life

“Wilkinson sets out to tell the story of Guatemala’s recently ended thirty-six-year internal war through the secret history of one venerable coffee plantation. The result reads like a novel, narrated by a disarmingly funny, perceptive, deeply humane young American who knows how to wear his courage lightly. You feel as if you are riding with Wilkinson on his beat-up motorcycle up muddy, dangerous jungle trails into the heart of a secretive country just waking up from a long nightmare. . . . A brilliant and important book.”

Francisco Goldman, author of
The Long Night of White Chickens

Silence on the Mountain has the seductive allure and vivid characters of the finest fiction and the penetration of the most elegant journalism. Mr. Wilkinson’s painstaking work has crucial lessons for our government’s future role not only in Latin America but in the entire world. Above all, his book serves literature’s deepest impulse: to bring forth truth out of silence.”—The 2003 pen/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction citation

“This is an extraordinary tale, and an extremely well-told one. Written like a modern explorer’s journal, Silence on the Mountain is the account of Daniel Wilkinson’s self-appointed mission to uncover dark secrets in a shady corner of Guatemala. With humility, humor, honesty . . . he has given us a rare and intimate understanding of how this achingly beautiful country became one of the Western Hemisphere’s most brutalized places.”— Jon Lee Anderson, author of Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life

“Wilkinson sets out to tell the story of Guatemala’s recently ended thirty-six-year internal war through the secret history of one venerable coffee plantation. The result reads like a novel, narrated by a disarmingly funny, perceptive, deeply humane young American who knows how to wear his courage lightly. You feel as if you are riding with Wilkinson on his beat-up motorcycle up muddy, dangerous jungle trails into the heart of a secretive country just waking up from a long nightmare. . . . A brilliant and important book.”— Francisco Goldman, author of The Long Night of White Chickens

"A young human rights lawyer with an eye for detail and the gumption to ride a rickety motorcycle to get to the bottom of a story until now largely untold, Wilkinson has written a book full of grim details about exploitation of coffee pickers, genocidal massacres, and frustrated leftist organizing."

Clifford Krauss
The New York Times Book Review

"The author's style is taut and precise, but it is the Guatemalans themselves who speak with the greatest eloquence."

The New Yorker

“Part travelogue, part historical thriller, and part chronicle of self-awakening, the book does indeed resonate with ‘big picture’ subjects such as terrorism, globalization, human rights, and migration.”

Alvis Dunn
HAHR

"[Silence on the Mountain] document[s] unthinkable horror, insisting as we try to turn away that attention must be paid, that what happened there must never happen again, that the past isn't past at all."

Joanne Omang
The Washington Post

"[A] page-turning work of detective nonfiction."

Diana Nelson Jones
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"[C]ombines the probity of a serious historian with the literary instincts of a crime writer . . . peeling back layers of silence and deceit in ways that are reminiscent of what Marcel Ophüls's film The Sorrow and the Pity did for Vichy France."

Peter Canby
The Nation

"Given the recidivist nature of U.S. policy in Latin America, Wilkinson's book [is] a well-timed reminder of the potentially devastating consequences of our successes."

Alex Stone
Washington Monthly

"Anyone who knows little or nothing about Guatemala can pick up Silence on the Mountain and be reliably filled in. Students of anthropology will appreciate its textual accessibility. Specialists, too, should not be disappointed and will surely admire the commitment and dedication that went into the book's composition."

W. George Lovell
American Anthropologist

"Wilkinson's quest for information takes him from the upper to the lower to the middle classes, through the different tiers of Guatemala's dependent export economy, all the way to your morning latte."

David Stoll
The New Republic