The New York Times
January 21, 1999
Guatemalan Laureate Defends Her Book

          By JULIA PRESTON

          MEXICO CITY -- Rigoberta Menchu, the Guatemalan Indian who rose from a childhood of
          want and racist violence to be awarded the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize, dismissed questions
          Wednesday about a book in which she described her life history, saying she had "a right to my own

          In meetings she organized with reporters here promising to "lay to rest" doubts about the 1983
          volume, which records her memories of horrific violence, Ms. Menchu denied that it contained
          purposeful inaccuracies but was elusive when pressed to clarify specific points.

          Doubts about the veracity of some episodes she recounts in the book, called "I, Rigoberta Menchu,"
          were raised in a new study by David Stoll, an anthropologist at Middlebury College in Vermont. A
          Dec. 15 report in The New York Times, based on new reporting in Ms. Menchu's home village,
          pointed to additional inconsistencies between her version and the recollections of many neighbors
          and relatives.

          Ms. Menchu said Wednesday that the central reality for her was that her father, mother and at least
          two brothers were all murdered by government security forces during the ferocious violence that
          descended on Guatemala's Indian communities in the years before her book was published -- all
          facts that have not been disputed. "I didn't find anything in these reports that changes the fact that my
          people are dead," Ms. Menchu said. "And that is my truth."

          She was dressed in the bright purple embroidered blouse and red headband that denote her origins
          in the highlands of central Guatemala.

          "I will change my mind and say I'm sorry the day I see my father again full of youthfulness and
          health," she said. Ms. Menchu's father was burned to death during a protest in a fire started by
          government forces at the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City in 1980.

          She argued that her book remained a faithful representation of the trauma suffered by Guatemalan
          Indians during a period of violent military rule. She said she was reluctant to "enter into little details,"
          explaining that she felt it would be undignified.

          In response to reporters' questions, Ms. Menchu said she had not acknowledged in her book that
          she had received several years' education at the Belgian-Guatemalan Institute in Guatemala City. In
          the opening pages of the book, which is based on interviews tape-recorded by a Venezuelan
          anthropologist, she said she had not learned how to read, write or speak Spanish until a few years
          before the text was published. But nuns who ran the school at the time told The Times that she had
          been an exceptionally bright pupil.

          On Wednesday, for the first time, Ms. Menchu said she had been at the school for several years, but
          as a maid, not a pupil. "It was not work that I was ashamed of," she said.

          Stoll said in a telephone interview that his research revealed that the Nobel laureate had worked at
          cleaning the school to pay her way while she studied there. Ms. Menchu acknowledged Wednesday
          that she had learned literacy and Spanish as a girl at the Belgium school and while on scholarship to
          another school in subsequent years.

          In her book Ms. Menchu provided a heart-rending account of the death by starvation of her
          youngest brother, who she said was named Nicolas. But Nicolas Menchu proved to be alive and
          was interviewed by The Times in Guatemala. This prompted Ms. Menchu to say Wednesday that
          she had another, younger brother who had also been named Nicolas.

          But the Nicolas Menchu who was interviewed by the Times said he was a decade older than his
          sister and that the only brothers who had died of hunger were all older than he.

          She had said that she witnessed the death of another brother, Patrocinio, who she said was burned
          alive by army troops. According to Stoll, in his book "Rigoberta Menchu and the Story of All Poor
          Guatemalans," Patrocinio Menchu was kidnapped by soldiers and his body is believed to have been
          dumped in a mass grave.

          Ms. Menchu, apparently conceding that she was not present when her brother was killed, said she
          had only reported what her mother told her of her brother's death. "Show me where the mass grave
          is where he is buried," she said. "If someone will give me his body, I will change my view. My truth is
          that my brother Patrocinio was burned alive.

          She suggested that her testimonial had come under criticism as part of a racist campaign. "If anyone
          thinks I'm going to say I'm sorry because I was born Maya and am an ignorant Indian, they're
          wrong," she said.

          Stoll said Wednesday that he had never intended to accuse Ms. Menchu of lying.

          "That would be to dismiss her morally, and that is definitely not my view," he said. "You can
          understand and defend her narrative strategy, of folding others' experience into her own, making
          herself into a kind of all-purpose Maya. She was in an emergency situation. She was trying to bring
          down pressure on the government and the army. To do that, you have to make a complicated
          situation seem simple."

                     Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company