What You Have Heard Is True by Carolyne Forché is one of these books everyone should read. Even if you normally don’t read memoirs. Even if you’re not that interested in repression and resistance.
I chose this book because I’d fallen in love with one of the author’s poems in a masterclass by Viet Thanh Nguyen in the American Library in Paris. The poem, “The Colonel,” began with the words that have now become the memoir’s title.
What You Have Heard Is True is incredibly well written. It’s personal and captivating and informative and poetic all at once. I cringe to remember my initial hesitation to read this book. As a Dutch person currently traveling through Southeast Asia, I was more interested in learning about colonial crimes on Java, Buddhism, and the Fall of Saigon than about the prelude to a war in a country I could barely point at on a map.
But I’m so glad I started reading anyway, because Forché has not only written a book about El Salvador, she has written a classic about humanity. With her insight into psychology, her commitment to telling the truth, and her unwillingness to write any character as black or white, she has given us a book that illuminates how people behave in the most difficult moments, how they die, and how they survive.
I read and kept reading and when I came to the end, I read many parts again. I hope you will do the same.
Forché: “I knew that if I didn’t accept his invitation, I could never live as if I would have been willing to do something, should an opportunity have presented itself. I could never say to myself: If only I’d had the chance. This was, I knew, my chance.”