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The powerful story of a young poet who becomes an activist through a trial by fire
What You Have Heard is True is a devastating, lyrical, and visionary memoir about a young woman’s brave choice to engage with horror in order to help others. Written by one of the most gifted poets of her generation, this is the story of a woman’s radical act of empathy, and her fateful encounter with an intriguing man who changes the course of her life.
Carolyn Forché is twenty-seven when the mysterious stranger appears on her doorstep. The relative of a friend, he is a charming polymath with a mind as seemingly disordered as it is brilliant. She’s heard rumors from her friend about who he might be: a lone wolf, a communist, a CIA operative, a sharpshooter, a revolutionary, a small coffee farmer, but according to her, no one seemed to know for certain. He has driven from El Salvador to invite Forché to visit and learn about his country. Captivated for reasons she doesn’t fully understand, she accepts and becomes enmeshed in something beyond her comprehension.
Together they meet with high-ranking military officers, impoverished farm workers, and clergy desperately trying to assist the poor and keep the peace. These encounters are a part of his plan to educate her, but also to learn for himself just how close the country is to war. As priests and farm-workers are murdered and protest marches attacked, he is determined to save his country, and Forché is swept up in his work and in the lives of his friends. Pursued by death squads and sheltering in safe houses, the two forge a rich friendship, as she attempts to make sense of what she’s experiencing and establish a moral foothold amidst profound suffering. This is the powerful story of a poet’s experience in a country on the verge of war, and a journey toward social conscience in a perilous time.
“Gripping . . . ‘I could just as well write my poetry from the quiet of my own study,’ Forché writes, ‘but I had known since childhood that human suffering demanded a response, everywhere and always.’ A portrait of the artist as political and poetic ingenue, What You Have Heard Is True is just such a response, a riveting account of how she made good on that conviction. It bears eloquent witness to injustice and atrocity and to how observing them shaped a fearless poet.” —The Washington Post
“In this galvanizing memoir, [Forché] recounts her political awakening under fire with a poet’s lyrical acuity and a storyteller’s drama…. Forché recounts her frightening and transformative encounters with scorching specificity and portrays her brilliant and courageous mentor and other resistance fighters with wonder and gratitude. This clarion work of remembrance, this indelible testimony to a horrific battle in the unending struggle for human rights, justice, and peace, stands with the dispatches of Isabel Allende, Eduardo Galeano, Pablo Neruda, and Elena Poniatowska.” — Booklist, starred review
“In this searing, vital memoir, Carolyn Forché at last reveals the dark stories behind her famous early poems: she brings alive the brutality, complexity and idealism of El Salvador in the late 1970s, a time of revolution that echoes all too painfully in the present. What You Have Heard Is True, a riveting and essential account of a young woman’s political and human awakening, is as beautiful as it is painful to read.” —Claire Messud, author of The Burning Girl
“Carolyn Forché asks us not only to hear, but to see, the scale of human and moral devastation in El Salvador. For those of us who are citizens and residents of the United States, Forché’s powerful, moving, and disturbing memoir also demands that we recognize our country’s responsibility for the atrocities committed by the El Salvadoran military. As is the case with her poetry, Forché’s nonfiction asserts the need for truth—in our politics, in our writing, in our witnessing.” —Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Sympathizer
About the Author
Carolyn Forché is an American poet, editor, translator, and activist. Her books of poetry are Blue Hour, The Angel of History, The Country Between Us, and Gathering the Tribes. In 2013, Forché received the Academy of American Poets Fellowship given for distinguished poetic achievement. In 2017, she became one of the first two poets to receive the Windham-Campbell Prize. She is a University Professor at Georgetown University. Forché lives in Maryland with her husband, the photographer Harry Mattison.