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What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance

4.56  ·  Rating details ·  328 ratings  ·  68 reviews
The powerful story of a young poet who becomes an activist through a trial by fire

What You Have Heard is True is a devastating, lyrical, and visionary memoir about a young woman's brave choice to engage with horror in order to help others. Written by one of the most gifted poets of her generation, this is the story of a woman's radical act of empathy, and her fateful encou
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published March 19th 2019 by Penguin Press
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4.56  · 
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 ·  328 ratings  ·  68 reviews

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Jun 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: people, politics
“It was as if he had stood me squarely before the world, removed the blindfold, and ordered me to open my eyes.”
What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance ~~ Carolyn Forché


I was so angry when I closed the cover of this book. Like the author, I felt like my eyes had been opened. Who & what do you believe in? No, who & what do you trust in? Why was the United States meddling in El Salvador in the first place? My European & Asian friends tell me Americans are blind,
Jun 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
6 stars.

Monsignor Oscar Romero, who was beatified as a Saint last year by Pope Francis, said, upon being told that his sermons were angering the El Salvadoran military, and that he was taking too many chances:

“One does not need to be fearful. We hear from Jesus Christ that one should not tempt God, but my pastoral duty obliges me to go out and be with the people; I would not be a good pastor if I was hiding myself and giving testimonies of fear. I believe that if death encounters us in the path
Forché, a poet invited to bear witness to the events evolving in El Salvador during the seventies onwards: the Resistance, the brutal and savage repression by the military, and the plight of all from Church figures to campesinos. Death squads. Young men recruited with the promise of highly specialized military careers and the benefits of such to find they walked into a trap; there is no escape. Quick death is the best hope.
"What am I trying to say with these declarations? What can be done with
The horror, the horror.

I admire the use of the model here. It’s Virgil leading Dante through the circles of The Inferno. Author Forché’s Virgil is Leonel Gómez Vides. He comes to her home in California, when she was in her twenties, accompanied by his two teenage daughters, on a mission he calls the reverse Peace Corps. Though he’s never so direct, he wants Forché to bear witness to the forthcoming civil war in El Salvador (1979-1992). It hasn’t started yet, but it will very soon, Leonel foresee
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: giveaways
I won this in a giveaway. An interesting story about a woman I knew little about
Julie Christine
Carolyn Forché was twenty-seven when she traveled to El Salvador for the first time in 1978. She was already an established poet, and a professor of poetry, at a university in southern California, but relatively naïve in world events when one morning, a stranger knocks at her door, holding the hands of his two little daughters. He clears a space on Forché's dining room table and begins to graph the history of El Salvador, in pictures and in tumbling, insistent words.

The man was Leonel Gómez Vid
Dec 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Forche is a phenomenal poet, and her poetry has long hinted at a raucous and rebellious life lived just beyond the margins, just out of sight of an ordinary existence. This is the story of that life, written with the poet's eye and ear for stark detail and with a born storyteller's narrative instinct.

Immerse yourself in this woman's life. It will change the way you live your own.
Apr 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Listening to Carolyn Forche read this book (through Audible) was an incredible experience. I felt honored to listen to the author read her own words. I can see the history of El Salvador and the United States as it was when Carolyn Forche was there, as the war began; and can see some ways history is playing out in current events today. This history, the lack of lesons learned, the lack of compassion and the lack of taking responsbility is a tragedy for El Salvador, for the United States and the ...more
Joshua Buhs
May 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
As a true life story--almost unbelievable: like something out of a nineteenth century novel, random appearances of distant connections setting the protagonist on a journey of self-discovery.

As biography, simultaneously acute and vague.

This is Forché's story of how she transformed herself into a political poet (and wrote one of the most famous poems of the late twentieth century, referred to int he title, but not directly in the text). She has a clear vision of herself, and weaves together severa
Kathleen Gray
Mar 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating. Forche had no idea what she was getting into when she went to El Salvador. Many of us have forgotten what happened in that country during the period of this memoir (and younger readers might not know at all). For that reason alone, this is a good read. Beyond that, and more importantly, Forche has a wonderful way with words. I'd not read her poetry but be assured that she brings a gorgeous rhythm to her prose. Thanks to Edelweiss for the ARC.
7.5/5 stars. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read and it has sunk its claws in me in a way I hope I never shake.

What You Have Heard Is True is a memoir of poet Carolyn Forché's time in El Salvador immediately before the outbreak of the Salvadoran Civil War in 1980, after the assassination of the now-sainted Archbishop Óscar Romero, though in fact, the country was already at war with itself.

(Briefly, before discussing the content, I should say that this book is beautifully written, poetic
James Smith
Jul 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Cynthia Davidson
Jul 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Don’t Read This Book Alone

Like the author says, in her final line of this searing memoir, “It was as if he had stood me squarely before the world, removed the blindfold, and ordered me to open my eyes.”

Carolyn is writing of the man, Leonel Gomez Vides (1940-2009), who turned her into a witness of the horrors in El Salvador in the 1980’s. He was hoping ‘Papu’ would tell the world. She has honored that sacred contract.

This book will remove the blindfold from your eyes, in case you still have any
Linda Brunner
Aug 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Dispelling illusions right and left, this memoir is red hot medicine. Especially for those that support the notion that the U.S. of A. is and has been a force for good in the world. And, a delicious pill for those who see the need for kicking the oligarchs and their henchmen straight back to hell for extended community service work.

Pain and suffering, the ending of innocence, courage by the cartload, the destruction of a country and a part of the world. A memoir for the times.
Dana Berglund
May 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was unexpected. Carolyn tells the story of her younger self, pulled in to the roiling pre-war tension of 1978 El Salvador by a charismatic activist. He somehow convinces Carolyn to repeatedly leave her start up life as a poet-professor in California to come to El Salvador to bear witness to the increasing danger and death, and try to understand some of the many sides and perspectives. She is wide eyed and innocent when she first meets Leonel. She had escaped death and seen more corpses than ...more
Pauline Lemasson
Apr 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I read her poem "The Colonel" at a masterclass and was astonished at how much could be said in 20 some lines of poetry. Reading this memoir puts all the context behind that poem. Incredibly important read and written with a searing eye at the scale of human and moral devastation.
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Csimplot Simplot
Mar 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book!
Anatoly Molotkov
Mar 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
When called upon to face the world with clear eyes, what does one do? A moving, suspenseful, important book.
May 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This brilliant book is Carolyn Forché's memoir, concentrating on the time she spent in war-torn El Salvador in the late 1970s, and how, incredibly, she became involved in that country. Most people who have heard of Forché will have read her brilliant poem "The Colonel", ( This is not a book of poetry, it is the story of how a poet becomes active in the fight against a brutal military dictatorship, how she became a “poet of witness”.

I was pretty much unaw
Feb 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
I won this book on Goodreads. It was rather long but worth it. The beginning was slow but necessary. A really enlightening story that will touch all of us. The horrors of the world are there and we, in this country are so safe and secure that we are completely unable to fathom the monsters that exist. This will open your eyes.
Jun 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
This may be the best memoir I've ever read, because it is about so much more than the author. It's a book every one of us Facebook revolutionaries ought to take to heart.

When Carolyn Forché was 27 years old, a poet, translator, and teacher, a camper van pulled into her driveway, and out came a man and two children. They came to her door, and Carolyn, finally convinced the man was not a serial killer, let them in, and thus began a life adventure that is the subject of this story.

Leonel, the man,
Neal Leslie
Sep 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Inspiring! Forche's memoir "What You Have Heard Is True" is one of those books that stays with you long after reading. Her retelling of her time in El Salvador in the late 70s early 80s is as much as story of Leonel Gomez and his tireless efforts to prevent the coming civil war as it is of Forche's reawakening. Leonel Gomez, a cousin to a friend, one day shows up on Forche's doorstep and convinces her to accompany him to El Salvador. Because she is a poet, Gomez believes she can help the America ...more
David Curry
Jul 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Disturbingly absent for the most part from most discussions about the crisis at the U.S. southern border is the fact that the insufferable conditions refugees are fleeing from in Central and South America are conditions that misguided or ill-willed U.S. foreign policy helped to create. This makes Carolyn Forche’s What you Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance a book that needed to exist — an experience that informs, inspires, and frequently devastates the reader.

Forche is an Ame
Carolyn Forche grabs you along for an amazing, frightening adventure. She's incredibly brave. I kept wondering what I would have done, in her shoes, and I don't think I'd have gone along for that ride. She was coerced into an incredible adventure and kept her end of the bargain, to witness. This book is her testimony to the recent El Salvadoran civil war. She's a great witness, relaying the facts without much personal interpretation. The sensation is that of watching the events unroll, through ...more
Deanna Madden
Jul 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
“It was as if he had stood me squarely before the world, removed the blindfold, and ordered me to open my eyes.”

In this powerful memoir, poet Carolyn Forche relates what she experienced in the late 70’s when she traveled to El Salvador and witnessed the conditions leading up to a war between those with power (the military) and those without (the rural poor and others who longed for a better future for their country).

In 1977 at the age of 27 she receives a visit in California, where she teaches
Jared Levine
May 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Most gente de los Estados Unidos still don’t really know what happened in El Salvador, or talk about it at really, and render the country as a vague place on a map. They don’t really talk about the war that happened there, where the vast majority of the country was deeply impoverished, systematically oppressed, under intense fear that extended beyond death, into mutilation and torture, where thousands upon thousands of people were disappeared by the death squads funded and trained by the United ...more
May 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
I had not heard of Carolyn Forché nor read any of her poetry before a review prompted me to read her memoir. I know basically nothing about El Salvador's history and part of the reason I wanted to read the book was to gain a better understanding of the war through her experience (plus I assumed her writing would be good, which it was). I'm not sure I came away with a clear understanding of the history of the war (I think this is also exacerbated by currently reading Say Nothing about The Trouble ...more
Ginny Short
Jun 03, 2019 added it
Shelves: nonfiction
What You Have Heard is True is a remarkable story of a remarkable time. When I was a grad student, one of my mentor advised me, as a writer of nonfiction, to "Think like a poet, Write like a novelist and to tell the truth." Ms. Forche's book does all of these so beautifully.

The story is about her meeting with an enigmatic and charismatic man who takes her on a journey of discovery to El Salvador where she witnesses the country as it falls into chaos. Witness, here, does not mean a bystander or
Emerson Sosa
Aug 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
“Over the years, young people from El Salvador who were brought to the United States by their parents because of the war and its aftermath have come to me wanting to know more about their birth country.”
-Acknowledgements, Carolyn Forché

Although I am US born, this quote spoke to me as many of my family members do not like to talk about the time Ms. Forché wrote about. It is not a history of the state of the country before the civil war; it is a capsule of space seen through the eyes of a naive A
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Carolyn Forché was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1950. She studied at Michigan State University and earned an MFA from Bowling Green State University. Forché is the author of four books of poetry: Blue Hour (HarperCollins, 2004); The Angel of History (1994), which received the Los Angeles Times Book Award; The Country Between Us (1982), which received the Poetry Society of America's Alice Fay di C ...more
“It was as if he had stood me squarely before the world, removed the blindfold, and ordered me to open my eyes.” 1 likes
“The death squads left their marks and warnings, publishing lists of their targets in newspapers, making calls in the night and hanging up. The dead click was enough to send the message. In San Salvador, the warnings of Mano Blanca appeared: fingers and palms dipped in white paint and slapped against doors and walls at night to dry by morning, handprints that resembled the paintings of schoolchildren if they weren’t also a sign of being marked for death. I asked Leonel why he never entered churches, on whose doors many handprints appeared. “I believe with my life,” he said, “with how I live.” 0 likes
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