Yesterday marked 21 years since a peace agreement brought an end to El Salvador’s brutal civil conflict. The war lasted for 12 years and claimed the lives of over 75,000 Salvadorans. Many left El Salvador and never came back, others went missing and were never found.
The American memory has to look a long way back to remember an armed conflict fought on U.S. soil. That’s not true in El Salvador. One friend shared with me how her father died in the eastern part of the country after being recruited to fight for the government. She was too young to remember. Another friend told me of the late-night flight from his home with the sounds of heavy artillery slicing through the air. Still another recalls diving under his desk because the fighting had reached the schoolhouse doorstep.
Any war leaves scars and changes the face of a country forever. That’s terribly true in El Salvador. An agreement for peace was signed, but violence and injustice echo long and far.
I do not fully understand everything about this war. I just hear stories, and read history books.But El Salvador is our home, and I want to know more. A few months ago I finished a novel that brought me more understanding of El Salvador then any internet search, or history lesson ever could. The novel is called Bitter Grounds and it details the lives of three generations of women from two vastly different classes. The novel chronicles the years and days leading up to civil war, and long after closing the back cover these years and days have stayed with me.
Sandra Benitez says in her own words, “In the name of fiction, I have endeavored to invent the truth.” She has done that masterfully and her characters seemed to walk right off the page and tell me what it felt like to be Salvadoran in the days leading up to the war. (One a side note there is some material that may not be appropriate for young readers.)
If you want to know more about El Salvador, and if you are more interested in finding understanding than in finding happy endings, I recommend you read Bitter Grounds. This book left with a profound love and respect for El Salvador.