In This Review

Rigoberta Menchu and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans
Rigoberta Menchu and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans
By David Stoll
Westview, 1999, 400 pp.

A relentless exegesis of the life and times of Rigoberta Menchu. Stoll picks apart her famous 1982 biography, I, Rigoberta Menchu, which propelled her to a Nobel Peace Prize and totemic status. He does not deny that the Guatemalan dictatorship massacred thousands of Mayan peasants or that she fled to Mexico to save her life and joined a revolutionary liberation movement. Instead, he takes aim at Menchu's drastic revision of her family history to suit the needs of the revolutionary organizations she had joined -- and the preconceived notions of international human rights observers. Stoll compares the bestseller with local testimony and documents, scrutinizing the role of the anthropologist, Elisabeth Burgos, who interviewed Menchu in Paris and turned her story into a book. Burgos happened to be the wife of Regis Debray, a French Marxist who predicted that Latin America would follow the revolutionary path of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. With this ideological overlay, Menchu's story dropped all mention of internecine local disputes and instead framed armed struggle as an inevitable reaction to oppression at a time when Mayas were desperate to escape violence. Burgos thus exploited Menchu's biography to mobilize foreign support for a retreating insurgency. Stoll concludes that the underlying problem is "not how Rigoberta told her story, but how well-intentioned foreigners have chosen to interpret it." A fascinating and challenging book that cuts very close to the core of many sacred myths.