What You Have Heard Is True

A Memoir of Witness and Resistance
Narrated by: Carolyn Forché
Length: 12 hrs and 17 mins
5 out of 5 stars (125 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

2019 National Book Award Finalist

“Reading it will change you, perhaps forever.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“Astonishing, powerful, so important at this time.” (Margaret Atwood)

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 27 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. 

©2019 Carolyn Forché (P)2019 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“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)

"Episode by episode, dodging death squads, Forché builds a story filled with violence and intrigue worthy of Graham Greene around which a river of blood flows - doing so, unstanched, with the avid support of America's leaders." (Kirkus Reviews)

“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)

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  • Overall
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Beautiful story

I was born in El Salvador in 1979. This book means so much it made me cry. Its so sad many of the same issues remain today.

2 people found this helpful

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 Cinematic true story about learning to truly SEE 

I cannot recall reading another novel with so much narrative tension and dramatic contrast: the deepest of love and admiration for fellow human beings, set in the midst of unspeakable horrors in Central America. Carolyn discovers and speaks about these horrors because they are key to understanding how our choices at home directly affect fellow sapiens in "far-off lands." It's a cinematic non-fiction cautionary tale, carefully worded to lay bare the emotional truth of how we are connected, in a way that only a poet could deliver. The audiobook version is great because Forché performs the poem in her own voice. Ultimately, the story reminds us that we are all not as insulated from each other as we often think we are. Understanding this now seems more important than ever.

1 person found this helpful

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Outstanding in every way

I just loved Carolyn Forche's narration and voice. She did such a beautiful job of narrating her book. I am pretty familiar with the situation in El Salvador and what happened but did not know about Carolyn Forche. I have become fascinated with her since I listened to this book. I watched some of her interviews and wish I could meet her some day. She is an amazing person and I am so thankful that she decided to share her story with the rest of us.

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Thank you, Carolyn Forché

A truly outstanding work of gripping, so important non-fiction. Ms Forché, in sharing her witness, teaches all of us. All people of conscience must listen to this book, expertly narrated by the author herself. Lessons that should be felt, understood, and remembered.

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amazing, raw, and so necessary

poetic words expose the world of a naive North American and the challenges people faced press and post war in El Salvador.

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raw testimony

not a light read, it's a tough read but necessary to unveil the truth of 🇺🇸 involvement in El Salvador

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  • Df
  • 08-13-19

Beautiful, courageous book

We are fortunate to have this powerful book in the world. While the specific events it narrates have come to pass, the voice of the poet—her role in paying attention—is as important today, in our present, and always. There are those who gracefully rise up to the occasion: Forché does, and in doing so she helps us notice, and eventually see.

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Powerful memoir

This is a wonderful, sad, and to a degree triumphant memoir. So grateful that Forché shared her story. With the terrible violence today pushing desperate Salvadorans north to the US border, the story of the US support for government repression and complicity in countless human rights violations in the late 70s-early 90s is in danger of being lost or forgotten. Very well written; captured not only the big important details but so many of the more quotidian ones that most of us would have missed or forgotten.

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Amazing and beautiful

The writing is eloquent and poetic. Listening to her voice I can imagine the smells, the places and the feelings she felt. I imagine being there with her and she brings me in close. The story is compelling and structured in a way that puts the pieces together slowly allowing me to savor the story at every turn. Truly beautiful.

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Poetry in Prose

I am so glad I listened to the audible version of this book. Carolyn Forche narrating her own story is just so powerful. Because she's a poet, she writes with a sense of rhythm, and it comes through so much when she reads.
It created this amazing juxtaposition between the absolute beauty of her language and the terrible things she was describing that really brings that awfulness into focus.
I would recommend this book to anyone, but even more do I recommend the audible version.

1 person found this helpful