Goldman’s book was an impulse buy. Reviewed somewhere on the Guardian’s website, it was, apparently, an important book that Salman Rushdie rated. And it was set it Guatemala. Part of the world I’ve long felt an emotional affinity to. I knew Goldman was writing about a political murder, but that was about it.
From the elaborate description of scene and event at the start to the release of the conclusion I was fixed on it. It’s a slow meticulous story, and engrossing purely as an account of detective determination. That pace gives you time to think about meaning and motivation, and to see at work the forces that have shaped Guatemalan history, and the history of much of the Americas, first as individual acts of almost mundane brutality, then as orchestrated oppression.
The forces stacked against change are a familiar crew. They’ve made many appearances in various guises all round the world and their power can make action seem pointless. Reading this book I felt that the same anger that I felt, for example, in listening to speeches against the military coup in Chile in the seventies; in reading about the work of Italian investigators Borsellino and Falcone a decade or so ago; or in listening to childish US propaganda against Chavez more recently. But one of the joys of Goldman’s book is that he shows you, without didacticism, in careful and practical detail how much difference individuals can nevertheless achieve. He has got me out my armchair.