Top critical review
"And that's when my consciousness was born"
on 21 December 2017
The autobiography of a young Guatemalan peasant woman who went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Menchu was an uneducated Indian girl, brought up between the family home, subsistence farming in the Altiplano, and the fincas (plantations), where the family would spend some months earning a little money in almost slave-like conditions.
Menchu's story took place from the 1960s to 80s; she tells of the very traditional Mayan lifestyle - its happiness and security but also the way Indians were dismissed by the Ladino (Spanish) population as almost a sub-species. Malnutrition, defrauding of the workers, and horrific accounts of peasants killed on the fincas by the indiscriminate use of pesticides, make for grim reading.
As government-backed landowners muscled in, trying to seize the Indians' lands, Menchu and her family got caught up in the peasant struggle for rights in a corrupt regime. Murders and violence became commonplace as the authorities tried to silence them...
Menchu has a powerful story to tell. Illiterate till adulthood, she narrates her account in interviews with an anthropologist. The result is an interesting autobiography, but one that would have been much more readable if given a literary touch.