Jasmine’s War by Daniel Hyland, published by Green Print & The Merlin Press, 411pp

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14 year-old Jasmine, sole witness to a massacre in El Salvador, flees for her life. Determined to survive and find justice she develops into a courageous young woman, eventually becoming a formidable FMLN commander.

Monument to the 1982 massacre at El Mozote, similar to the one described in Jasmine’s War. Photo: Wikimedia

Daniel Hyland’s action-packed novel, full of drama, horror and politics, has the ring of truth. While a fictional account that inevitably compresses events, the story is  based on research and the author’s experiences of El Salvador. Place names, farming practices, flora and fauna are authentic and conjure up vividly the sights, sounds and smells of countryside and campesino life, while details of weapons, ambushes, raids and living in FMLN camps could only have been drawn from in-depth interviews and other research.  The novel also communicates well the range of motives of Salvadoreans on both sides of the civil war:  the rich elite, interested in preserving the status quo; the corrupt military and politicians craving power and money; a complacent middle class turning a blind eye to atrocities, and the poor forced into a desperate choice – be a victim of the indiscriminate, vicious repression or join the armed struggle.

It’s a good story but the book is in need of editing:  there are several places where judicious cutting would have improved it.  Also, I found the writer’s style clunky and inelegant in places –  dialogue was often stilted, political arguments didactic –  and there were occasionally some odd vocabulary, for example, a girl felt her hair was ‘laden’, the mayor counting on his fingers first ‘clinched the little finger’ then ‘throttled a thumb’ .

But the writer is clearly doing something right, because, despite stylistic shortcomings I cared about the characters. Also, the author’s understanding of and sympathy for campesinos forced into armed struggle came through loud and clear, as did the complexities and machinations of the political situation during the civil war. All in all, then, Jasmine’s War  provides in fictional form a vivid, authentic picture of the  devastation and brutality of the 12 year-long civil war and a sympathetic portrayal of the impact it had on ordinary people’s lives. And as such deserves to be read .

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