It is the late 1970s in El Salvador, when peasants read the Bible and discover that they are God's hands, feet, and voice; if El Salvador is to be a savior, for which it is named, it will be up to them to have the faith and courage to stand up to the men with guns. In Harvest of Cain, Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer lets us accompany these campesinos in the time leading up to the war. They never imagined a future of blood and betrayal, that their cause of land reform would be lost, or that their beloved defender, Oscar Romero, would be abandoned by Rome and murdered by the military. Nor could they have imagined, as the novel shows, that the church of the poor would change salvation history. This story of the base Christian communities is well known to most Central American activists. But the second half of the book is the surprise.
Human rights reports reveal reality only analytically; Nelson-Pallmeyer has made it into an intriguing human drama. Through the lives of CIA agents Cynthia Randolf and Peter Jones, Nelson-Pallmeyer describes a joint U.S.-Salvadoran military operation, with its maze-like plot of assassination, coups, and betrayals. In doing so he opens the doors on the discourse of the U.S. embassy, the CIA, and the Salvadoran generals, letting us see both the humanity and the mindsets of the "intellectual authors." Nelson-Pallmeyer has concocted a thriller and a love story in the context of the popular church's subversive and sacred sojourn.
Teachers of history, political science, Latin American studies, or liberation theology will value this book. The novel is essentially a social history of the war years; it's told as fiction but it contains a virtual blueprint of actual events-an insider view of both military and foreign policy deal-making. I have successfully used the novel as a contextual introduction for a student delegation I accompany to El Salvador each year. Harvest of Cain is a compelling read that shows us the utter glory of those who resist the goliaths of power.
Renny Golden is the founder of the Chicago Religious Task Force on Central America. She is the author of Disposable Children: America's Child Welfare System and The Hour of the Furnaces, a book of poetry.