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3.76  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,535 Ratings  ·  126 Reviews
"Terror is the given of the place." The place is El Salvador in 1982, at the ghastly height of its civil war. The writer is Joan Didion, who delivers an anatomy of that country's particular brand of terror–its mechanisms, rationales, and intimate relation to United States foreign policy.As ash travels from battlefields to body dumps, interviews a puppet president, and cons ...more
Unknown Binding, 108 pages
Published March 1st 1983 by Simon & Schuster (NY) (first published 1983)
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May 12, 2016 Darwin8u rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
"Terror is the given of the place."
- Joan Didion, Salvador


In 1983, when Salvador was first published, I was nine. I remember those years as being ones where I heard about people disappeared, death squads, kidnappings, priests killed, nuns raped. Who left me in front of the television? It was the second major international crisis that became part of my childhood dreams. I remember 3-5 years earlier, being freaked out by the Iran hostage crisis. I was aware of angry protesters, machine guns, blind
Jul 07, 2012 Rachel rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Didion's prose is precise and exquisite, but I struggled with her interpretation of her experience. She argues against continued U.S. involvement in El Salvador's civil war, which seems like the "right" argument, but one based primarily on her fear for her own safety (understandable but not actually relevant to the formation of U.S. policy) and secondarily on her complete dismissal of the value of Salvadoran culture and, ultimately, Salvadoran lives. Her story covers a two-week time period durin ...more
Mar 18, 2013 Becki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If I were just judging Joan Didion's prose, it would be 5 stars every time. But a few things about "Salvador" kept me from giving this book a 5 star rating.

But first, a disclaimer. I'm half Salvadoran. My American father and Salvadoran mother met in El Salvador and married in '77 and I was born in '79 in the States, just a few months after my parents decided to come back here. That said, I've never really spoken to them about the war. I've only actually only visited the country once, as a child,
I've always been in love with Joan Didion's reportage, with the dry, affectless, distanced language that suddenly, powerfully, yields razor-sharp insights. "Salvador" is the finest of her post-1960s writing---- a picture of a ghostly, fear-haunted country at the beginning of the 1980s. Didion catches the emptiness of official language and press releases, the utter and all-consuming cynicism of a society where conspiracy is assumed and random death a fact of daily life, the empty streets and vill ...more
Mar 22, 2012 Garrett rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Fine writing and terrifically atmospheric, but at thirty years' remove, Didion's weary (and wary) apolitical stance--her insistence that it's impossible to tell what's happening or who's responsible and that the violence is all pretty much aimless--feels less like insight and more like giving up. Having just read the remarkable Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua, this felt slight and nearly trite.
Oct 16, 2014 Jake rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Okay, it is perhaps unfair to expect of what is clearly a "minor" work like Salvador the same thoroughgoing insight that Didion displays in her major non-fiction books like Slouching Toward Bethlehem and The White Album. That said, I was not impressed by this book.

Salvador made me realize that Didion is not, in fact, a natural reporter. She is too reclusive, too depressive, and does not seem to thrive on human interaction and experience the way born reporters do. This didn't matter for Slouching
Mar 14, 2012 Ed rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: central-america
Joan Didion's nonfiction/reportage can be tough to read; "Salvador" is no exception. My difficulty isn't with her subject matter, although it can be grim as it is here or simply excruciating as in her two most recent books covering the deaths of her husband and then her daughter. It is because she produces such beautiful, fully formed and precisely balanced sentences that one (at least this one) can get bogged down in marveling at their perfection. She portrays the sense of anomie, fear and drea ...more
Shweta Ganesh Kumar
Joan Didion's Salvador, set in 1982 is a trapdoor of sorts to the not-so-distant violent history of El Salvador, the country I've called home for almost two years now.
'Salvador' was born out of Didion's two-week long visit to this small Central American Nation, while it was caught up in the throes of a civil war and fear was a political tool, used indiscriminately and effectively.
Terror was all-pervasive. Joan writes about the United States and their interference in the nation's administration
Erik Graff
Feb 08, 2011 Erik Graff rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Didion fans
Recommended to Erik by: David Schweickart
Shelves: travel
During the Reagan administration the United States committed itself to a policy of rollback as regards populist movements, particularly in the Americas. We invaded Grenada and created proxy armies in Costa Rica and Honduras while attempting the overthrow of Nicaragua. Unremarkably, we supported the dictatorships of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador against popular insurgencies.

During this segment of the eighties I was very active politically, both with the Socialist Party and with solidarity g
Well,we barley made the airport
For the last plane out
As we taxied down the runway
I could hear the people shout they said:
"Don't come back here again.Yankee"
But if I do I'll bring back more money
Cause all she wants to do is dance - Don Henley

Reading Joan Didion's account of her two week visit to El Salvador in 1982 at the height of the Salvadoran Civil War which was eventually to cost 75,000 lives is truly a trip back through time. Reagan ruled and the perceived evil of the time was communism and
Ian Mchugh
Apr 27, 2010 Ian Mchugh rated it really liked it
Joan Didion's description of early-1980s El Salvador is a terrifically bleak one. The reportage style is beautifully written and wonderfully, powerfully, and horrifically descriptive.
The content seems dated from the El Salvador I am aware of but the interviews with the politicians and ambassadors reflect some of the issues prevalent in the tiny Central American country today. The gulf between rich and poor still exists and Didion's frustration with the lack of access to balanced (or any) coverag
Dr. George H. Elder
This book is about the repressive and oligarical government of El Salvador and its reactionary treatment of it own citizens and dissidents. Salvador is largely a collection of facts that are woven around and among the author and her husband’s 1982 two-week visit to the country.

The shocking events that Didion describes in El Salvador are what makes the piece so successful. She presents these events in great clarity and often does so without being overly verbose. Consider the following passage a
"On this evening that began with the grandson of General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez [1930s dictator] and progressed to 'Senorita El Salvador 1982' [Miss El Salvador Pageant] and ended, at 12:22 am, with the earthquake, I began to see Gabriel Garcia Marquez in a new light, as a social realist."

Joan Didion's chronicle of the political upheaval of El Salvador in the 1980s is suffused with the country's endemic atmosphere of fear and violence. Her experience of the country is of the unidentified
First El Salvador has moved on from this time period. While it is a part of Salvadorian history, the country has recovered. My first annoyance with this book was that she called El Salvador Salvador throughout the entire book. That’s like calling Los Angeles, Angeles all the time. The book touches on the subject from an Americanized point of view; it was quite interesting to see how she starts to see some of the picture. There is a great quote which expresses the feelings of the Salvadorian peop ...more
If I had read this book in the context of my Latin American history class, I would have appreciated its perspective. The book is a valuable work of current events, or at least it was in the 80's when it was published, but as a work of literature, I was unimpressed. The 107-page book is filled with poorly integrated block quotes that could have been cut down. There's hardly a story in the book. As a reader, I was unsure what the narrator was doing in El Salvador in the first place. I feel like sh ...more
Didion's previous non-fiction often revealed her sense that a malevolent absurdity pervades all things. So visiting civil-war-ravaged El Salvador in the early 80's may well have been provided too perfect a reinforcement of that view -- making this reporting much more of a subjective reaction than a journalistic attempt to understand the place. For Didion, a place where violence, official and casual, has become so ingrained in daily life, where truth had become hugely disregarded by both the Salv ...more
Diane Ramirez
Oct 01, 2009 Diane Ramirez rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book doesn't try to explain what can't seemingly be put into words or even processed internally -- the awful "situation" (one of many odd labels used for the inexplicable) in El Salvador in the 1980s. Unlike many other political tracts and journalistic treatises and horrifying survival tales, of whose importance I am in no way discounting!!, which try their damndest to get some sort of handle on the travesties that occurred in El Salvador and elsewhere in Central America but either wind up ...more
Aug 28, 2016 Wendy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Unsettling stuff - but really just a snapshot; Didion was only in the country for two weeks, so the insights aren't the deepest, and there isn't a ton of context or background.
Ah, Madame Didion, how I love the way you take something visceral and awful, and write it as if you were observing it from a bathysphere, smirking and chain-smoking. El Salvador, as we know/knew, is/was a wreck. The point is that, as a privileged American, you can't possibly claim to "feel" what the people are feeling, or to write "objectively" about a situation that your own government, via its local proxy, refuses to let you examine objectively. Instead, the only way to approach the situation ...more
May 10, 2009 Alwa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I think I should have started with a different Didion--I found this one pretty difficult to follow with no background knowledge of the early '80s political situation in El Salvador. Still, even to my uneducated eye there was enough to make the read worth it.

UPDATE: Joan Didion is really agreat example of my terrible book-buying habits—I had heard this Joan person was a good writer, and heard this from people whose opinions I respected, so I assembled maybe 6 of her books before sitting do
Sean Mccarrey
Mar 12, 2013 Sean Mccarrey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Didion's Salvador is not the macro view of El Salvador in the 1980s that some might hope. Rather, in a manner similar to that of Kapuscinski, Didion displays the range of emotions and feeling that one might have suffered or enjoyed in a similar situation. In my experience, these kinds of books are crucial to understanding the broader issues of a place like El Salvador, and even if this first person narrative doesn't have the accuracy that some might crave, it gives you the raw detail and emotion ...more
Just finished this guy. A fast read. Not sure if Joan Didion's detail oriented style is best put to use on this sort of subject. In the end I didn't know if the precise lists of details left me with a better understanding what it was to live in a deteriorating, terror-filled country. In flashes and pieces it worked but I was still keenly aware of her privilege and the ways her lens was not "their" lens.
Eren Buğlalılar
Üsluba dört, içeriğe üç.

El Salvador'da devrimciler ile oligarşinin savaşı devam ederken, Didion herhalde ABD Büyükelçiliği'nin davetlisi olarak ülkeye gelip gözlemlerini yazmış. Büyükelçiliğe teşekkürle açılan kitapta gerillaların mücadelesi yok. Bunun yerine karanlık, kimin elinin kimin cebinde olduğunun anlaşılmadığı bir Salvador var. Örneğin ABD'nin beslediğini tüm dünyanın bildiği kontraları sanki ondan bağımsız çeteler gibi anlatıyor yazar.

Didion kitapta sık sık ABD'ye duyduğu güvensizliği,
Jan 17, 2015 Miriam rated it liked it
I think she does a very good job of describing events and introducing people and topics to lead the reader in a particular direction. She creates a deep impression with a few words/images. The situation is unnerving and absurd and horrible and farcical and ultra-violent.

This is a real period piece. It combines the terror and uncertainty of the scene IN El Salvador as well as the U.S. impression from the U.S. and the impression of U.S. Americans in El Salvador. The U.S. gives aid and asks El Salv
Jack Wolfe
Feb 16, 2015 Jack Wolfe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jesus Christ, indeed. This is some black, bleak shit. Joan Didion seems like EXACTLY the writer you would want to go to a political nightmare like El Salvador-- she's sharp, she's observant, and she doesn't put up with shit-- but then she goes there and finds she has little to say or offer that can affect anything. Even for one of our most fearless truth-tellers, the place is just too terrifying and too resistant to truth-telling. The book is thus a one hundred page admission to the limitations ...more
Mar 13, 2016 Rita marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I might want to read this book essay written after a 2-week visit to el salvador

also MIAMI, about cuban expats there. [note compendium below that includes both]

"Notes of a Native Daughter" 1965, on SAcramento upper middle class life she grew up in.

probably her writing will be over my head.

1993 WRB 'Girl of the Golden West' by Jan Zita Grover.

In 2006, Everyman's Library published ***We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live***, a compendium of much of Didion's writing, including the full content
Jan 05, 2014 Trebor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Written back in the early 80s, along with Rushdie's Jaguar Smile, this is an essential book in terms of an outsider trying to get a bead on the Central American civil wars of that time. Seen mostly from the point of view of a visitor, there's no real firsthand perspective from the guerrilla side as in Rushdie's account, so this book is not a comprehensive or full picture of the conflict and its players. It's very much a snapshot in true Dideon style of a society ripping apart at the seams. And a ...more
Jun 16, 2016 Kevin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays, nonfiction
Essentially a long magazine article about El Salavador during the military dictatorship of the early 1980s. Piles of murdered bodies lie alongside a limping bureaucracy and a populace that must act like citizens of a Shirley Jackson short story and blithely skip along while ignoring the mounting terror around them.

The reporting and cool analysis is vintage Didion and therefore magnificent. The Central American policy is a bit too wonky (and a bit too stuck in 1982) to be all that readable or in
Ash Ponders
Trips over the line of veracity into racist pastiche more than once. But I'm a brown guy, what do I know?
My god, am I not a Didion fan? This is a real blow to my status of pretention.
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Joan Didion was born in California and lives in New York City. She's best known for her novels and her literary journalism.

Her novels and essays explore the disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos, where the overriding theme is individual and social fragmentation. A sense of anxiety or dread permeates much of her work.
More about Joan Didion...

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