In This Review

Reflections on Memory and Democracy
Reflections on Memory and Democracy
Edited by Merilee S. Grindle and Erin E. Goodman
Harvard University Press, 2016, 274 pp

We remember historical tragedies in the hope of drawing lessons and not repeating past errors. This collection of essays asks whether, by recalling the evil deeds of authoritarians and by delivering justice to victims of state violence, societies can strengthen their democratic systems. The elegantly crafted contributions cover means of historical memory as diverse as investigative journalism, Mayan oral histories, and Argentine fiction. At times, the authors assert causal relationships between historical truth commissions, judicial punishments, and victim compensation, on the one hand, and the legitimacy and sustainability of democratic institutions, on the other. Alas, these case studies are too few in number and too specific to particular times and places to allow for robust generalizations, as Grindle recognizes in her introduction. Still, they are worthwhile on their own terms, especially Marjorie Agosín’s poetic tribute to the Chilean women whose weavings created powerful visual tributes to their disappeared relatives; Sergio Bitar’s courageous reflections on Chilean politics, which forcefully distinguish between pragmatic coexistence and genuine reconciliation; and a profound essay on moral reciprocity by Salomón Lerner Febres, the former chair of Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.