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What You Have Heard Is True Summary & Study Guide

Carolyn Forché
This Study Guide consists of approximately 42 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of What You Have Heard Is True.
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What You Have Heard Is True Summary & Study Guide Description

What You Have Heard Is True Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion on What You Have Heard Is True by Carolyn Forché .

This guide is based off the following version of the book: Forché, Carolyn. What You Have Heard is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance. Penguin Press, 2019.

What You Have Heard is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance tells the story of American poet Carolyn Forché’s time in El Salvador between 1977 and 1980, as the Central American country tipped into civil war. The story is told in a variety of tenses and shows Forché reflecting on her friendship with Leonel Gómez Vides, an eccentric man fighting to prevent--and later to stop--the violence in his country.

Leonel arrives at Carolyn’s house in southern California in 1977. He has heard about her from Carolyn’s time in Spain translating the work of Claribel Alegría, the Central American poet at the time living in exile in Spain. Leonel and his two young daughters spend several days with Carolyn in her house. Over this time, Leonel tells Carolyn the history of his country and describes the rising tensions with the military there. Before leaving, he asks Carolyn to come to El Salvador.

Though her friends try to dissuade Carolyn, she eventually decides to go. Leonel meets her in El Salvador and begins to whisk her around the country, taking her to meetings with high-up government officials and to rural villages. He especially focuses on the story of Richard Richardson, an American veteran allegedly killed by Chacón, the country’s violent and villainous Director of Immigration. Leonel wants Chacón overthrown.

Throughout her time in the country, Carolyn visits an understaffed and under-financed hospital, as well as Leonel’s coffee farm, where he is trying to start a cooperative. She meets Leonel’s ex-wife, Margarita, who gifts her a dressier, more feminine outfit. Leonel arranges for Carolyn to be shown a jail in Ahuachapán. There, she witnesses horrifying images of violence and torture. She meets Monseñor Oscar Romero, the renowned Archbishop of San Salvador. As rest, the pair travel to Guatemala, where Leonel tries to find someone who can build a portable bridge.

When Carolyn returns to California, she stocks up on medical supplies for her next trip to El Salvador. When she returns, Carolyn is introduced to two women, Luisa and V, who she understands are quietly collaborating with the resistance movement. As violence escalates in the country, Carolyn is moved to Hotel X. There, one night, she and Luisa observe a van of armed men dressed in civilian clothes arrive. They hear machine gun fire in the hotel room above theirs.

Eventually, Leonel tells Carolyn that it is time for her to return home; the country is too dangerous. Initially resistant, Carolyn is finally convinced to leave by Monseñor Romero. The week after she leaves, Monseñor Romero is assassinated while giving Mass. The country descends into violence, and Carolyn spends the next several years trying to tell Americans her story.

The memoir concludes with a section dated November 2009. In this scene, Carolyn has returned to El Salvador to help bury Leonel’s ashes. She is there with Margarita and their two daughters. The memoir concludes with some of Carolyn’s reflections on Leonel and his contributions to his country.

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This section contains 536 words
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