Assassination of a Saint: winner of Duke 2017 Méndez Book award

Assassination of a Saint(Durham, January 4, 2018): Duke University named Matt Eisenbrandt’s Assassination of a Saint: The plot to murder Óscar Romero and the quest to bring his killers to justice (University of California Press, 2017) the winner of the 2017 Méndez Book Award. 

Assassination of a Saint traces the thrilling story of how an international team of lawyers, private investigators, and human-rights experts fought to bring justice for the slain archbishop. Eisenbrandt, a lawyer who was part of the investigative team, recounts how he and his colleagues interviewed eyewitnesses and former members of death squads while searching for evidence on those who financed them, with profound implications for El Salvador and the United States.

Informed of the award, Eisenbrandt said, “I am truly honored to have Assassination of a Saint selected as the winner of the Méndez Book Award. Juan Méndez is a luminary in the field of human rights. It is fitting for the award to go to a book about the life and death of Óscar Romero, a man who sacrificed everything in defense of human rights in his beloved El Salvador. While my name is on the cover, Assassination of a Saint is the product of dedicated efforts by many people to seek justice for Monseñor Romero, particularly the amazing team with whom I had the privilege to bring his case to trial for the first time.”

This award honors the leadership of Juan E. Méndez, a human rights champion who has devoted his life to the defense of human rights. First awarded in 2008, this award selects among the best current non-fiction books published in English on human rights, democracy, and social justice in contemporary Latin America. 

Robin Kirk, Méndez Award Committee Chair and co Director of the Duke Human Rights Center @ the Franklin Humanities Institute, commented, “Often, the day-to-day and painstaking work of human rights investigators goes undocumented, only visible when those labors make headlines. This deeply personal and determined work corrects that, taking us inside the team that helped unmask the killers of one of the great human rights heroes.”

This year’s judges include Kia Caldwell, associate professor of African, African-American, and Diaspora Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill. “Unlike previous books on this subject, Assassination of a Saint provides an in-depth analysis of the U.S.-based investigation into Romero’s murder. It is also written in an engaging, accessible, and compelling style.”

Kirsten Weld, a historian of political conflict and social movements in modern Latin America, adds, “This book is engagingly written, and the people it chronicles — the crusading lawyers Van Aelstyn and Bernabeu, the Salvadoran murder conspirator Saravia— really come alive in the narrative. Helpfully, it addresses both the idealism and hopefulness of human rights work as well as its limitations and challenges.”

Holly Ackerman, librarian for Latin America, Iberian, and Latino/a Studies at Duke Libraries, adds, “In a country torn by civil war and dominated by elites who equated even incremental political reform with communism, we see how Romero, a mainstream priest, courted danger by becoming an advocate for the poor and challenging the government to stop the death squads. Eisenbrandt gives us both the case and the context. Many would say the result is too little too late but the book serves as a highly readable, representative example of what human rights defenders worldwide are facing.”

The award is sponsored by the Duke Human Rights Center @ the Franklin Humanities Institute, Duke’s Human Rights Archive at the Rubenstein Library, and the Duke Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.