A tale of gang life, guerrilla warfare, intergenerational trauma, and interconnected violence between the United States and El Salvador, Roberto Lovato's memoir excavates family history and reveals the intimate stories beneath headlines about gang violence and mass Central American migration.
...groundbreaking ... Unforgetting is a story of two countries, inextricably bound, and Lovato is uniquely positioned to tell it ... It is a complex puzzle indeed, and Lovato is among the first Salvadoran-American writers to assemble it, shuttling back and forth in time, between countries and languages, to retrieve the pieces for a kaleidoscopic montage that is at once a family saga, a coming-of-age story and a meditation on the vicissitudes of history, community and, most of all for him, identity ... In a time of national reckoning, such truths must be faced if we are to be serious about who we are and what we have done. Lovato’s memoir confronts historical amnesia ... The picture he assembles is a mural of our complicity in systemic violence and inhumanity, and the resilience of the people who endured it.
... determined to unravel the many stereotypes that outsiders like Didion have perpetuated about the country, to make room for new insights about the trauma that generations of Salvadorans have endured ... Lovato, who is Salvadoran-American, claims early on that his book seeks to explore the roots of gang violence in El Salvador, but it is about much more than that. Unforgetting covers a lot of ground, jumping between time periods, characters, countries, and even genres ... The book illuminates the depths of violence that have shaped El Salvador ... because Unforgetting is so personal, it has much to add to the conversation on historical memory. The insights Lovato gleans about his own country’s history ultimately allow him 'to understand my family in a more complicated way, one that accommodated both its lightness and its darkness,' he writes. Much of the book’s power comes from its exploration of Lovato’s own wide-ranging life experiences ... Memoir gives the book an authenticity lacking in works by authors like Didion. He neither judges nor romanticizes the gang members he meets, speaking honestly to their struggles while never absolving them of their often violent behavior ... Lovato’s writing about memory and reconciliation speaks powerfully to a truth that Didion never took the time to really see: that terror is never a given but rather a consequence of how power is wielded in history.
With the precision of a master seamstress — not unlike that of his paternal grandmother, Mamá Tey, who migrated from El Salvador with the money earned courtesy of her iron Singer sewing machine — Lovato braids a narrative that spans nine decades and weaves together El Salvador’s history of genocide, civil war, revolution and migration with his family’s own ... Lovato’s book is a brave examination of the oft-erased history of Salvadorans, including those like him who grew up in San Francisco. But it’s also a call for justice and change.