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The Weight of All Things
by Sandra Benítez

The Weight of All Things

Reviewed by Shelly Nichols

Sandra Benítez did not start to write fiction until she was 39 years of age, but it is her life previous to literary invention that allows Benítez to draw a reader into her Latina culture and its trials as a community. Benítez is of Puerto Rican and Midwestern American descent and was born in Washington D.C. in 1941. She spent ten of her childhood years in El Salvador and much of the remainder of her adolescence in Missouri and parts of Mexico. After personal reflection, Benítez began to turn her writing to reflect her Latina heritage. Her first published book, which immediately received international attention, A Place Where the Sea Remembers, takes place in a Mexican fishing village. Another powerful novel that also tells the story of the Latina culture, Bitter Grounds, takes place in El Salvador and discusses the themes of poverty versus wealth in a culture with economic and political opposition. Benítez again chooses El Salvador for the locale in her latest dramatic novel, The Weight of All Things, which she is again able to give voice to the people of her childhood home.

In The Weight of All Things, Benítez uses her Latina background to depict 1980s war torn El Salvador. She does so beautifully as she completely illustrates the hardships and journeys of a nine-year-old boy caught in the middle of the El Salvador government's attempt to control their citizens and those citizens that have taken arms to defend their freedoms. The novel begins with the young boy, Nicolas, and his mother attending the funeral of fallen Archbishop Oscar Romero. As the war outside the cathedral swells around them, his mother holds him close. Finally, the war erupts and crashes down upon the outside plaza and cathedral in a whirl of gunfire, bombs and outright chaos. His mother thrusts her body over his and breathes quiet prayers in effort to protect them. Inevitabley a bullet fatally strikes her and she is gone forever. When the bullet found its mark, the impact caused her arms to flail upward for an instant before they flopped down. Nicolas felt the weight of her push against him and he felt her go limp.

Nicolas is convinced his mother is merely wounded and that he loses her when the Green Cross volunteers take her body away. Completely in denial of his mother's death, Nicolas desperately searches for her. His pursuit returns him back to El Retorno, his home village, where he gets his first glimpse of what war can do to a community. El Retorno is in shambles, the church, the bakery, the homes of his friends all crushed in recent bombings. Nicolas makes the hike to his grandfather's rancho on the hill only to find that it had been taken over by guerillas. Surrounded by the army and guerillas at every turn, Nicolas shows us what life is like for a poor child trying to live in a divided country.

Sandra Benítez does an amazing job illustrating the Latina culture by combining a true catastrophic event with the touching story about a boy that is unable to live life like a carefree child. The reader is able to realize the effects war has on an innocent boy. We can see this when Nicolas loses his mother, when friends of his are shot and killed, and when he is afraid to ride the bus alone, in fear that the army will kill him. The Weight of All Things shows an innocent and honest perspective of the El Salvador Civil War and what it was like for a boy that is forced to face death and loses his innocence as he sees his country rip itself apart. Not only do we realize what war is like for children, but through the eyes of Nicolas, we are able to see what impacts war has on people from every angle. Benítez shows us what its is like for the guerillas who desperately want their freedom, the army that is serving their country, and the villages, like El Retorno, that are caught in the middle. This dark, powerful novel will leave an impression on everyone that reads it because it grabs you from the beginning and never lets you go.