A candle in the darkness: reading The Art of Political Murder
a book review by Silvio Sirias
It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
The Art of Political Murder:
Who Killed the Bishop?
by Francisco Goldman
Grove Press, New York (2007)
396 pp., illustrated, $25 in hardcover
On April 26, 1998, Bishop Juan Gerardi was bludgeoned to death --- in a particularly savage fashion --- in the garage of his San Sebastián parish house in Guatemala City. Two days before his murder, the report, Guatemala Never Again, had been officially released. This exhaustive documentation of the deaths of 200,000 Guatemalans during that nation’s 36-year civil war was a monumental task Bishop Gerardi spent years overseeing.
At once the news of the bishop’s death circulated around the world and I, living in the States at the time, assumed that the Guatemalan military --- the report was especially critical of that organization’s role in the vast majority of civilian deaths --- had been responsible for the brutal killing. And, as the investigation of the crime proceeded, and the details of the findings that were filtered to the international media became increasingly murkier and contradictory, I lost hope that the culprits would ever be found.
But today, nearly 10 years after Bishop Gerardi’s death, I’m thankful that a courageous group of people --- including Francisco Goldman --- were persistent in their quest for the truth. Because of their efforts several of the guilty are currently in prison, serving long sentences.
For years now I’ve been a fan of Francisco Goldman’s work. The Guatemalan-American is the author of three superb novels: The Long Night of White Chickens, The Divine Husband, and, my personal favorite, The Ordinary Seaman. The Art of Political Murder: Who Murdered the Bishop? is his first book-length work of non-fiction. This engrossing and true account of the assassination of one of Guatemala’s most prominent human rights activists is his most absorbing, blood-chilling effort. Goldman employs his considerable narrative skills to tell the harrowing story of the brave investigators and prosecutors who, at great personal risk and sacrifice, defied high-ranking members of Guatemala’s secret service to try to get to the bottom of Bishop Gerardi’s murder and bring those responsible to justice.
The Art of Political Murder is, indeed, a tale of perseverance, courage, and faith against seemingly insurmountable --- and sometimes deadly --- odds. (The mutilated bodies of witnesses, as well as of a brother of one of the investigators, were left in the countryside as warnings to cease the inquiries). Goldman’s work stands as a dramatic tribute to the men and women, author included, who stood before the gates of fear and pushed against them until the dimmest ray of light, hope, and truth entered the dark chambers and gradually illuminated the horror of what took place that night of April 1998.
Goldman’s book also details the unraveling of the secret service’s devious attempts to cover up their act --- the narrative is replete with fascinating and often macabre twists and turns --- and in doing so it serves as a melancholic coda to Guatemala’s tragically long civil war. Because of the gripping factual story, and the artful way in which it is told, The Art of Political Murder is destined to rank high among Francisco Goldman’s already remarkable oeuvre.
Silvio Sirias recently won First Place in the 33rd Annual Chicano/Latino Literary Prize for his second novel Meet Me Under the Ceiba. He resides in Panama. For more information visit his website at www.silviosirias.com
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