700 Days in El Salvador
Coretext, $22.95 pb, 213 pp
Michele Gierck’s account of her years spent working as a human rights advocate in El Salvador raises the problem of how to understand other people’s lives. Early in 700 Days in El Salvador, she distinguishes between the two Spanish infinitives for the verb ‘to know’. Saber means to gain an understanding intellectually, through books or art, through a representation. Conocer is to understand by experiencing something directly, to live through it or to witness it oneself. Gierck’s passionate work on behalf of the Salvadorean peasants, or campesinos, is testament to her conviction that to conocer is truly to know. She attributes an inviolable sanctity to the stories of those on the ground, who witnessed the misery and fear in El Salvador during the decade of civil war and its equally troubled aftermath.