This month, the Trump administration reversed protections for Salvadorans living legally in the United States through a program known as Temporary Protected Status, which allows people whose native countries are afflicted by armed conflict, natural disaster or other dire conditions to remain in the United States. El Salvador was first added to the list in the 1980s as a result of a bloody civil war that lasted 12 years and left 75,000 dead. In 2001, when a pair of earthquakes badly impaired the country’s infrastructure, these protections were renewed. In the books below, two writers captured life during the civil war, while a third follows a pair of twin brothers who immigrated in 2013.
By Joan Didion
108 pp. Simon & Schuster. (1983)
Based on a 1982 visit to El Salvador, when the country was in the midst of war, this book documents the violence and bloodshed of that time. Didion writes about the body dumps, where “a skull surrounded by a perfect corona of hair is a not uncommon sight,” and details the macabre lessons about the body’s deterioration that one learns upon arriving. At the time, it was “taken for granted” that most of the killing was done by government forces, and even students were at risk of being “disappeared.” Our reviewer wrote that Didion “brings the country to life so that it ends up invading the flesh. To get rid of it then is as simple as shaking off leeches.”
SMALL HOURS OF THE NIGHT
Selected Poems of Roque Dalton
BY Roque Dalton
228 pp. Curbstone Press. (1996)
Though now considered the most prominent poet to have come out of El Salvador, Dalton lived mostly in exile during his lifetime. He was sentenced for execution twice in El Salvador, but escaped death until 1973, when he was killed by his own party under suspicion of trying to divide them. Dalton published most of his poems while living in Mexico and Cuba. His poetry, compiled in this collection, dealt with his time as a guerrilla soldier, religion, politics and life in El Salvador.
THE FAR AWAY BROTHERS
Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life
By Lauren Markham
298 pages. Crown. (2017)
This book, which Jennifer Senior called “impeccably timed, intimately reported and beautifully expressed,” follows twin brothers who migrated from El Salvador to the United States to escape gang violence and a homicidal uncle in their native country. At 17, they moved to Oakland, Calif., where their older brother already lived, leaving their parents back home. Markham describes the ways in which the brothers must raise themselves, balancing teenage concerns with adult responsibilities like finding employment. She also takes readers to El Salvador and uses the experiences of the boys’ family back home to shed light on issues plaguing the country. The book “makes vibrantly real an issue that some see only as theoretical,” wrote Senior.