As (almost) always with testimonio, Claribel Alegría and D J Flakoll’s No me agarran viva is caught in the tension between the typical and the exceptional, or the two meanings of the exemplary: example of or example for. Thus the book’s prologue begins with the declaration that Eugenia (the FMLN combatant who is the text’s main focus) is an “exemplary model of self-abnegation, heroism, and revolutionary sacrifice” (7).
Is she an example, then, in the sense that she provides for us–or others–to aspire to and follow? Or is she exemplary in that hers is just one among many such stories? The prologue continues by stressing the second of these two readings, asserting that she is “a typical case, rather than an exception, of so many Salvadoran women who have dedicated their efforts, and even their lives, to the struggle for the liberation of their people” (7). And yet the book that follows consistently suggests the opposite, that in almost every way her capacities and her commitment exceeded that of those around her. As her immediate superior, Comandante Ricardo, puts it: “Eugenia was one of those who contributed most, through her experience, the sureness of her political ideology, her party militancy as much as in her sense of mission and organizational ability” (147/144; translation modified). Or in the words of her partner, Javier, who gives the “definitive summary of the life and death of his wife and comrade”: “Eugenia’s life was exceptional” (147/145).
The way that the book deals with this tension is ultimately by vacating Eugenia’s life of almost any individuality beyond the superlatives. Perhaps this is another sense in which she is a “model”: she so fully plays the role of the exemplary guerrilla that she is otherwise empty inside. She has almost no interior life. Everything is devoted to the cause. Even her marriage is described in terms of consummation to the struggle: “The wedding was their initiation into a clandestine way of life. [. . .] Some of the guests left the church in protest because their vows included the promise to keep helping the people” (65/79). Indeed, wherever love is mentioned it is as likely to be love of the people or love of the party as it is to be any kind of romantic attachment to Javier. Throughout, with the one exception of some very brief comments by her sister almost at the end of the book (concerning her enthusiastic but out-of-tune singing and her careless driving), she is overwhelmingly a person devoid of personality.
All of which gives an ironic double meaning to the book’s title: “They Won’t Take Me Alive.” This testimonio surely doesn’t capture much if anything of Ana María Castillo Rivas (her real name), her life and her singular vivacity, offering us instead no more than a beautiful corpse, a revolutionary icon under an assumed name. She escapes us, as much as she escapes the Salvadoran security forces, if at the high cost of sacrifice and glorified death.