Cover image for Silence on the mountain : stories of terror, betrayal, and forgetting in Guatemala
Silence on the mountain : stories of terror, betrayal, and forgetting in Guatemala
Wilkinson, Daniel.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, [2002]

Physical Description:
373 pages : map ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F1466.7 .W55 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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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 thelong 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.

Author Notes

Daniel Wilkinson works with Human Rights Watch. He lives in Brooklyn, New York

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

While working as a human rights activist in Guatemala, Wilkinson developed friendships on both sides of the mostly unacknowledged 36-year internal war that raged between the military government and workers on coffee plantations, the nation's economic backbone. His deepening friendship with a planter family and plantation workers bestowed on Wilkinson a sense of mission to tell the untold ravages of those murdered or kidnapped by military regimes backed by the U.S. government. Wilkinson details the history of the conflict, which began when a land reform movement was destabilized by U.S. involvement in a military coup in 1954. A plantation system was put into effect that took land from the Mayans and distributed it to European plantation owners. Guatemala's government has spared no expense to project an image of stability to the world in an effort to maintain its position as a coffee exporter. Wilkinson describes a people so beaten down by terror that they have responded with resounding silence--one he was able to penetrate to produce this compelling account. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

Written in the vein of a Robert Kaplan travel journal, this profound book traces the history of Guatemala's 36-year internal struggle through personal interviews that recount the heart-wrenching stories of plantation owners, army officials, guerrillas and the wretchedly poor peasants stuck in the middle. Wilkinson's narrative unfolds gradually, beginning with his quest to unlock the mysteries of the short-lived 1952 Law of Agrarian Reform, which saw the redistribution of land to the working class. He goes on to explain many of the causes and consequences of the country's political and social problems. At one point, Wilkinson vividly describes how the entire town of Sacuchum uncharacteristically gathered to recount for him and thus record for the outside world how the army raped, tortured and massacred members of the community because they were believed to have supported the guerrillas. Much of what's revealed in Wilkinson's account of the country's trials is hard to stomach, especially his description of CIA involvement in Guatemala. In many instances, Wilkinson's personal story gets in the way of the larger account he is trying to tell, and the book becomes more about him (he was just out of college in 1993, when he made the trip) than about events in Guatemala. However, this book is both easy to read and compelling, and Wilkinson's little self-indulgences are easily forgivable given the powerful subject matter and how well it is told by Wilkinson, now a lawyer with Human Rights Watch. B&w photos. Agent, Tina Bennett. (Sept. 26) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

A member of Human Rights Watch, Wilkinson considers Guatemala's 36-year civil war and the 200,000 lives it has cost. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

I A House Burned
The Owner
The Student
The Battlefield
II Ashes Fell
Natural History
III A Future Was Buried
A Dangerous Question
The Law That Would Change the World
IV And They Were the Eruption
The Savages
The Guerrillas
The Politicians
The Terrorist
The Defeated
The Storytellers
List of Names
Notes on Sources
Selected Bibliography