Shawn Sorensen's Reviews > When I Was Elena

When I Was Elena by Ellen Urbani Hiltebrand
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's review
Feb 05, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: national-and-international-affairs, graphies-auto-or-bio

A powerful, scary, sad, searing and courageous memoir. I was a human rights observer for Peace Brigades International in Guatemala for four months in 2004, and no book has captured the fear, dread and overwhelming experience of being in that dirt poor, violent and corrupt country better than "When I Was Elena". And I was just an observer for four months, experiencing members of the human rights organizations I was accompanying have members disappeared or found in mass graves. Mrs. Hiltebrand stayed there for over two years as part of the Peace Corps when a VAST majority of her American colleagues bailed well before their full term was up. And for good reason.

I totally support and was awed by the author's unique style in this book, of following every chapter of her own experience with a story of what she thought, based on lots of observation, happened to key people she was with after the author left the site. The greater point is that so many people, especially in countries like Guatemala, don't have their own voice. They are alive and forcefully silenced - or dead.

This is vivid, totally heartfelt writing that doesn't pull any punches. More of it desperately needs to be written, especially when so many people in our country rail against illegal immigrants - immigrants coming from countries like Guatemala and Mexico, countries which have horrific human rights records and deep, widespread poverty.
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02/13 marked as: read

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Marypleierprospectivespanishstudent ..this is one I won't miss. Mary

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