January 21, 1999
Guatemalan author defends life story -- but hints critics may be right

                  MEXICO CITY (CNN) -- Guatemalan Indian activist Rigoberta
                  Menchu denounced those who have questioned the life story that helped
                  her win a Nobel Peace Prize, but hinted Wednesday that the book
                  could be -- as they suggest -- a historical composite rather than an

                  "I still haven't written my autobiography," she said at a Mexico City news
                  conference. "What you have is a testimonial."

                  Menchu became a celebrity after the 1983 publication of "I, Rigoberta
                  Menchu," in which she told of a childhood as a poor Indian caught up in a
                  bloody civil war. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992.

                  Last month, U.S. anthropologist David Stoll published a book claiming that
                  Menchu's book, "I Rigoberta Menchu", had many inaccuracies. He
                  challenged her claims that she had no formal education and that she watched
                  her younger brother slowly die of starvation and her elder brother get burned
                  to death by soldiers.

                  "I never found anything (in the book) that denies my kin are dead, and that is
                  my truth," she told journalists.

                  In "Rigoberta Menchu and the Story of All Poor Guatemalans," Stoll, who
                  interviewed more than 120 people over nearly a decade, accused Menchu
                  of repeatedly describing experiences she did not witness.

                  People interviewed for an article in The New York Times last month also
                  contradicted much of what Menchu wrote.

                  In her account, Menchu describes the killing of her mother, her father and
                  two of her brothers, as well as the massacre of most of the people in her
                  home village.

                  Menchu said Wednesday she had to rely on verbal accounts of what
                  happened to her family because the whereabouts of her parents' and
                  brothers' bodies was not known.

                  The Times article said a reporter had interviewed Menchu's brother Nicolas,
                  although she had written he was dead. Menchu said she had had two
                  brothers named Nicolas, since Indian parents often gave the same name to
                  several siblings. *

                  "If it is an expert that speaks, he should know by now that in our families, we
                  have a Nicolas I, Nicolas II," she said.

                  At a Mexico City news conference, Menchu also denied reports that she
                  had enrolled in a private boarding school, saying she worked as a maid at
                  the school.

                  In her book, Menchu said she had received no formal education.

                  Differing accounts

                  But Menchu suggested exactly what Stoll claimed -- that her story
                  represented a composite of the lives of Indians who suffered through
                  Guatemala's 36-year civil war. She spoke of "collective memory" and said
                  her book presented an accurate view of life in wartime Guatemala.

                  "I have a right to a historical memory, a right to my memory as a woman and
                  as a Guatemalan," she said.

                  "My mother is dead....If she wasn't eaten by animals, let's investigate and
                  maybe the mother who was eaten by animals is another Indian mother,"
                  Menchu said.

                  Stoll, in a telephone interview from Middlebury College in Vermont, said he
                  had no quarrel with Menchu's response.

                  "I never called her a liar," he said. "The book expresses 500 years of Native
                  American experience in the eyes of a woman born in 1959. ... It can't be a
                  literal truth."

                  Francis Sejersted, chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, has said
                  his group was aware of the criticisms of Menchu's autobiography and that
                  they would have no effect on her prize.

                       The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.