Picks and Pans Review: Salvador

updated 04/11/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 04/11/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Joan Didion

In her novel The Book of Common Prayer, Didion created a marvelously convincing authoritarian Latin American country, fascinating and unfathomable. With facts gathered during a 1982 visit to El Salvador, she has written a nonfiction account that is even more incredible—the portrait of a place characterized by surly juveniles with machine guns and daily counts of mutilated bodies, a place whose government makes no sense and certainly doesn't govern, a place whose American Embassy constantly fabricates "information" in order to placate Washington and get more aid for its host nation. At lunch with Ambassador Deane Hinton, Didion writes, "It occurred to me that we were talking exclusively about the appearances of things, about how the situation might be made to look better, about trying to get the Salvadoran government to do what the American government needed done in order to make it 'appear' that the American aid was justified." At one point a highly placed Salvadoran tells her, "Don't say I said this, but there are no issues here. There are only ambitions." This is a tough report. Americans, Salvadorans, the Catholic Church, all come off looking like dupes, unprincipled fools, crazy, ruthless murderers, every man out for himself. If she is a backer of political causes, Didion has never flaunted them publicly. She makes no suggestions, hints at no solutions. She simply reports what she saw and heard in an extensive search for facts. Didion has had no experience as a political correspondent. But if what she writes is true, the prospects for the future of this small Central American country seem terrifying. (Simon & Schuster, $12.50)

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