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 more than 200,000 people, the vast majority of whom died (or were "disappeared") at the hands of the U.S.-backed military goverment.
In 1993 Daniel Wilkinson, a young human rights worker, begins 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 that compels Wilkinson to seek out an impressive cross-section of the country's citizens, from coffee workers to former guerrillas to small-town mayors to members of the ruling elite. From these sources he is able to piece together the largely unwritten history of the long civil war, following its roots back to a land reform movement derailed by a U.S.-sponsored military coup in 1954 and, further back, to the origins of Guatemala's plantation system, which put Mayan Indians to work picking coffee beans for the American and European markets.
Silence on the Mountain reveals a buried history that has never been told before, focusing on those who were most affected by Guatemala's half-century of violence, the displaced native people and peasants who slaved on the coffee plantations. These were the people who had most to gain from the aborted land reform movement of the early 1950s, who filled the growing ranks of the guerrilla movement in the 1970s and 1980s, and who suffered most when the military government retaliated with violence.
Decades of terror-inspired fear have led Guatemalans to adopt a survival strategy of silence so complete it verges on collective amnesia. Wilkinson'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 come to see the anatomy of a thwarted revolution that is relevant not only to Guatemala but to any country where terror has been used as a political tool.
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Published September 26, 2002
by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
History, Political & Social Sciences.