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Book Review: The Little Breadwinner: War and Survival in the Salvadoran Heartland by Lucia Mann

“The Little Breadwinner: War and Survival in the Salvadoran Heartland” is a harrowing story about the many faces of war, written by Lucia Mann. The book folds and unfolds the narratives of various generations across different lands and times, but perhaps the greatest feat of reading is that it offers an account of El Salvador’s civil war. Also, the author was on site at the time of the civil war, so the subject matter has an added personal resonance.

If you are not familiar with the Salvadoran Civil War (1979-1992), this is a great opportunity to learn about it. At the beginning of the book, you can find a map and a timeline of events that serve as a general guide for the following pages. The two sides that were in conflict for more than 12 years were the military-led governing junta and a coalition of left-wing groups, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). US-funded government death squads carried out a methodical campaign of terror against civilians that added to a long list of human rights violations (forced recruitment of child soldiers, massacres, attacks and rape). A lot of people died and a lot of people just disappeared. Their exact number remains unknown, but the UN reports a casualty count of more than 75,000, in terms of those killed during the long civil war. Everything finally ended with the Chapultepec Peace Accords.

“The Little Breadwinner” spans the civil war, but goes further, capturing some of the belated aftermath of a difficult decade. Lucia Mann begins with some seemingly unconnected cold facts about the Salvadoran Civil War, but as the pages progress, her approach becomes more personal as she tells us a multi-generational story. She frequently chimes in with personal observations and comments that sometimes take the reader out of the immersive experience.

One of the main characters is Estrella Godwin Lozano, a short person who becomes “the little breadwinner” for her family who lives in poverty. She is a descendant of the Waorani tribe of the Amazon jungle. Her biological mother was a gifted member of the tribe and her gift was passed down through the generations, being particularly strong in Estrella’s case. However, this special soul was not ordained for an easy life; it faced many difficulties and challenges, the worst of which was caused by the civil war.

“The Little Breadwinner” reveals the personal narratives of the victims of the Salvadoran Civil War. The book is based on real events, but presents them in a fictitious way. A passionate and worldly activist, Lucia Mann, a prolific writer, tells another unique story about the downtrodden and suffering trying to fight the tide of fate.

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