In recent years as countries around the globe have begun to move from dictatorial to more democratic systems of governance, no more traumatic (or dramatic) ethical problem has arisen than what to do with the previous regime’s torturers. In most cases, the security and military apparatuses, responsible for the overwhelming majority of human-rights abuses, still retain tremendous power—and will not abide any settling of accounts.
Now, New Yorker staff reporter Lawrence Weschler tells the extraordinary story of how, against tremendous odds, torture victims and human-rights activists in two Latin American countries—Brazil and Uruguay—tried to bring their torturers to justice and to rehabilitate their whole societies from harrowing periods of silence and repression. In this first of his two accounts, he tells how a tiny group of torture victims, clerics, and human-rights activists in Brazil launched an extremely risky, nonviolent plot to get even with the former torturers by publishing an indisputable account of their savage system of repression—indisputable because it is drawn from the regime’s own files. In the second, set in Uruguay, he tells how a more broadly-based movement attempted to bring to light the dark history of a military regime engaged in more political incarceration per capita than any other on earth at that time.
In this illuminating and beautifully written book (portions of which appeared in five issues of The New Yorker), Weschler examines what a small number of individuals can do to retrieve history and truth from the hands of torturers.
Until his recent retirement, Lawrence Weschler was for more than twenty years a staff writer at The New Yorker, where his work shuttled between political tragedies and cultural comedies. He is a two-time winner of the George Polk Award and has also been honored with a Lannan Literary Award. The author of eleven books, including Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder (which was short-listed for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award), he has taught at Princeton; Columbia; University of California, Santa Cruz; Bard; Vassar; and Sarah Lawrence. Since 2001 he has been the director of the New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University. He lives in Westchester County, New York, with his wife and daughter, though he pines continually for the light of his native L.A.
Advance Praise for Lawrence Weschler’s A Miracle, A Universe (based on his New Yorker reportage)
“A powerful and moving essay on human rights, on torture, on politics, on ethics, on man’s treatment of man. It ranks with Hannah Arendt’s classic work on the banality of evil.” —Raymond Bonner
“An extraordinary story of how two societies—Brazil and Uruguay—confronted their past of horror and repression and did not lose hope. At a time of collective amnesia and increasing moral indifference, how we need this wonderful book.” —Ariel Dorfman
“The torture state is a deadly instance of modernism combined with barbarism. Pay attention when such a subject finds its author—as in Lawrence Weschler it has.” —Christopher Hitchens
“Among the qualities if Lawrence Weschler’s writing are two that do not often go together: passion and thoughtfulness. He is passionately committed to the struggle against torture and oppression in Latin America. At the same time, his writing is incisively analytical and thoughtful about the moral and political dilemmas that must be confronted if the evil in the system is to be extirpated. I can think of no one else whose writing on these matters is on comparable importance.” —Aryeh Neier, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch
“Systematic torture as a working state philosophy has in the last twenty years been widespread. But this state of affairs has been largely ignored. This masterly book confronts us with the appalling facts. It is an impressive, profoundly important document.” —Harold Pinter