Boy, have I suffered through this. While La búsqueda. Testimonio de Leonor Esguerra Rojas (Pregón, 2011) depicts the life story of an utterly interesting character, this (first) edition is barely edited at all. As someone who for professional reasons has a lot to do with interview transcripts, I was apalled by the incoherences of style and organization, and the overall missing conception. What is worse, even as a non-native speaker I notice many mistakes in spelling and punctuation, and the at times unconvincing attempts at Colombian colloquialism. But I continued anyway, because I was curious to see how this nun of upper class origins ended up with the ELN guerrilla.
Even if, as such, this is not a unique story (there have been many nuns and priests in Colombia who collaborated – or still do – with guerrilla groups, most famously Camilo Torres), it is one of very few accounts of how women ended up guerrilleras in Colombia. It might have been a problem from the start that I had Gioconda Belli’s Mujer habitada in mind all the time, and that probably raised my expectations to almost unfulfilable heights. But even comparing her non-fictional biography, which was the basis for mujer habitada, to this supposed testimony left me with the impression that La búsqueda has some valuable stories to share but has not been thought through in its presentation. Especially I would like to rescue the idea of structuring the narrative through the different nome de guerres Leonor used during her life, but insist on the fact that many things she “testifies” would have greatly profited from contextualization with other sources (clearly, this is the anthropologist speaking).
How did I come across the book?
I saw it in the hands of a dear friend and ex-member of the M-19 guerrilla movement, so I assumed this would imply a certain credibility, if not quality. I still have to talk to her about it to see what she really thought about it.
When and where did I read it?
During fieldwork in Bogota.
Le tememos a la violencia porque origina dolor, sufrimiento; cuando hablamos de sangre que corre, de heridos, de fusilamientos, de decapitados, pensamos con horror en el dolor que esto produce, pero nos deja sin cuidado saber que hay miles de niños que se están muriendo por desnutrición, por falta de higiene, por falta de atención medica, no nos afecta mucho saber que hay personas que sólo toman una sopa aguada una vez al día, que hay ancianos que mueren de frío dormidos en la calle helada… todos estos muertos no cuentan, nadie los contabiliza, nadie ve que hay una violencia legal, institucionalizada. (p. 123)