Cover image for Rigoberta Menchú and the story of all poor Guatemalans
Rigoberta Menchú and the story of all poor Guatemalans
Stoll, David, 1952-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boulder, Colo. : Westview Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xix, 336 pages : 2 maps ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1270 Lexile.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library F1465.2.Q5 M3885 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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This book is about a living legend, a young Guatemalan orphaned by government death squads who said that her odyssey from a Mayan Indian village to revolutionary exile was "the story of all poor Guatemalans." Published in the autobiographical I, Rigoberta Mench#65533;, her words brought the Guatemalan army's atrocities to world attention and propelled her to the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize. Five years later, as her country's civil war ended and truth commissions prepared their reports, the Nobel laureate seemed to repudiate the life story that made her famous. "That is not my book," she said, accusing its editor, Elisabeth Burgos, of distorting her testimony.Why the disclaimer? One reason was the anthropologist interviewing other violence survivors in her home town. In Rigoberta Mench#65533; and The Story of All Poor Guatemalans, David Stoll uses their recollections and archival sources to establish a different portrait of the laureate's village and the violence that destroyed it. Like the imagery surrounding Ch#65533; Guevara, Rigoberta's 1982 story served the ideological needs of the urban left and kept alive the grand old vision of Latin American revolution. It shaped the assumptions of foreign human rights activists and the new multicultural orthodoxy in North American universities. But it was not the eyewitness account it purported to be, and enshrining it as the voice of the voiceless caricatured the complex feelings of Guatemalan Indians toward the guerrillas who claimed to represent them. At a time when Rigoberta's people were desperate to stop the fighting, her story became a way to mobilize foreign support for a defeated insurgency.By comparing a cult text with local testimony, Stoll raises troubling questions about the rebirth of the sacred in postmodern academe. Far from being innocent or moral, he argues, organizing scholarship around simplistic images of victimhood can be used to rationalize the creation of more victims. In challenging the accuracy of a widely-hailed account of Third World oppression, this book goes to the heart of contemporary debates over political correctness and identity politics.

Author Notes

David Stoll teaches anthropology at Middlebury College. His other books include Is Latin America Turning Protestant? and Between Two Armies in the Ixil Towns of Guatemala.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Some people have been considered "living saints." Rigoberta Menchu, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, has become such a person. Ever since she dictated her story to a French journalist with leftist leanings over the course of a week in Paris, she has been celebrated as the author of I, Rigoberta Menchu. Her tragic story of a Guatemalan peasant subjected to the horrors of persecution at the hands of the Guatemalan state made her a symbol of all that has gone wrong, economically, ethnically, environmentally, and politically, in this hemisphere. Stoll seems to have done an honest and sincere job of researching Menchu's story, and what he has uncovered may make her followers uneasy. Stoll has not sought to debunk Menchu's importance or stature, but what he does is bring her mythical status down to earth and thus make her more human. This is an invaluable addition to understanding the complex issues that still exist in the Americas. --Raul Nino

Publisher's Weekly Review

Stoll (Is Latin American Turning Protestant?) has written a revisionist biography of a Guatemalan woman canonized and, according to Stoll, ultimately misunderstood by the academic and political left. He tries to replace what he believes to be the prevailing romantic image of Guatemalan rebellion with something that comes much closer to the murky, morally shaded truth. In 1982, I, Rigoberta Menchú, the autobiography of a Mayan peasant woman, catapulted its author onto the international stage. In 1992, on the symbolically loaded 500th anniversary of Columbus's arrival in the New World, Rigoberta Menchú won the Nobel Peace Prize. Stoll challenges major and minor aspects of Menchú's book, using interviews, conducted over a nine-year period, with soldiers, guerrillas and survivors of violence from Menchú's hometown and surrounding region. Painstakingly delineating the complex cultural and political landscape of Guatemala, Stoll refutes Menchú's "simplified" account of land-poor Mayans taking up arms against wealthy landowners, painting instead a picture of peasants‘both indígenas and ladinos‘who wish only to be left alone but are caught between guerrilla and government armies. Arguing that Menchú's book mythologizes the experience of poor Guatemalans, Stoll explores the implications of such a sentimental view for academia, solidarity activists and Guatemalans themselves. His generally supportive attitude toward the peasants' cause and his denunciation of the army's terror makes his book all the more convincing. This is provocative reading that's sure to shake up assumptions‘and rile tempers‘across the political spectrum. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Rigoberta Mench£'s autobiography, I, Rigoberta Mench£ (LJ 11/1/84), told the story of a Guatemalan Indian family who suffered horrific oppression from the Guatemalan military and elite. That book and Mench£'s subsequent activities propelled her into international prominence in the fight for the rights of the poor and oppressed. Mench£ became a symbol for the Left throughout the world and subsequently received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992. Based on ten years of research by Stoll, a somewhat controversial scholar and professor of anthropology at Middlebury College, this book questions the veracity of Mench£'s autobiography, specifically aspects of her family background, her childhood, land questions, and violent acts against her family. This volume will be important for Stoll's analysis of how the academic and political Left functions and uses symbols to idealize victims of oppression. A landmark publication that most academic and large public libraries should acquire.ÄMark L. Grover, Brigham Young Univ. Lib., Provo, UT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. viii
Acknowledgmentsp. xvi
Chronologyp. xviii
1 The Story of All Poor Guatemalansp. 1
Part 1 Vicente Menchú And His Villagep. 14
2 Uspantún as An Agricultural Frontierp. 15
3 The Struggle for Chimelp. 29
Part 2 Popular Revolutionary Warp. 41
4 Revolutionary Justice Comes to Uspantánp. 43
5 The Death of Petrociniop. 63
6 The Massacre At The Spanish Embassyp. 71
7 Vicente Menchú and The Committee for Campesino Unityp. 89
8 Vicente Menchú and The Guerrilla Army of the Poorp. 107
9 The Death of Juana Tum And The Destruction of Chimelp. 125
10 The Death Squads in Uspantánp. 141
Part 3 Vicente's Daughter And the Reinvention Of Chimelp. 157
11 Where Was Rigoberta?p. 159
12 Rigoberta Joins The Revolutionary Movementp. 167
13 The Construction Of I, Rigoberta Menchúp. 177
14 Rigoberta's Secretp. 189
Part 4 The Laureate Goes Homep. 201
15 The Campaign for the Nobelp. 203
16 The Lonely Life Of A Nobel Laureatep. 219
17 Rigoberta and Redemptionp. 231
18 The New Chimelp. 249
19 Rigoberta Leaves The Guerrilla Movementp. 265
20 Epitaph for An Eyewitness Accountp. 273
Notesp. 285
Bibliographyp. 311
Indexp. 323

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