Guatemala

Severina

"'Right from the start I picked her for a thief, although that day she didn’t take anything. . . . I knew she’d be back,' the narrator/bookseller of Severina recalls in this novel’s opening pages. Imagine a dark-haired book thief as alluring as she is dangerous. Imagine the mesmerized bookseller secretly tracking the volumes she steals, hoping for insight into her character, her motives, her love life. In Rodrigo Rey Rosa’s hands, this tale of obsessive love is told with almost breathless precision and economy. The bookstore owner is soon entangled in Severina’s mystery: seductive and peripatetic, of uncertain nationality, she steals books to actually read them and to share with her purported grandfather, Señor Blanco.
 
In this unsettling exploration of the alienating and simultaneously liberating power of love, the bookseller’s monotonous existence is rocked by the enigmatic Severina. As in a dream, the disoriented man finds that the thin border between rational and irrational is no longer reliable. Severina confirms Rey Rosa’s privileged place in contemporary world literature."

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Clearvigil in Spring

This slim volume of "Nobel laureate Miguel Angel Asturias’ Clarivigilia Primaveral or Clearvigil in Spring is Asturias' creative reworking of Mayan mythology in his native Guatemala. The Nobel Committee called this mythic poetic cycle an 'impressive' work that 'deals with the very genesis of the arts and of poetic creation, in a language which seems to have assumed the bright splendor of the magical queztal's feathers and the glimmering of phosphorescent insects.'"

Professor Gerald M. Martin of the University of Pittsburgh, one of the world's top Asturias scholars, has called this translation 'truly excellent.'"

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Escaping the Fire

"During the height of the Guatemalan civil war, Tomás Guzaro, a Mayan evangelical pastor, led more than two hundred fellow Mayas out of guerrilla-controlled Ixil territory and into the relative safety of the government army's hands. This exodus was one of the factors that caused the guerrillas to lose their grip on the Ixil, thus hastening the return of peace to the area.In Escaping the Fire, Guzaro relates the hardships common to most Mayas and the resulting unrest that opened the door to civil war. He details the Guatemalan army's atrocities while also describing the Guerrilla Army of the Poor's rise to power in Ixil country, which resulted in limited religious freedom, murdered church leaders, and threatened congregations. His story climaxes with the harrowing vision that induced him to guide his people out of their war-torn homeland. Guzaro also provides an intimate look at his spiritual pilgrimage through all three of Guatemala's main religions. The son of a Mayan priest, formerly a leader in the Catholic Church, and finally a convert to Protestantism, Guzaro, in detailing his religious life, offers insight into the widespread shift toward Protestantism in Latin America over the past four decades. Riveting and highly personal, Escaping the Fire ultimately provides a counterpoint to the usual interpretation of indigenous agency during the Guatemalan civil war by documenting the little-studied experiences of Protestants living in guerrilla-held territory."

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I, Rigoberta Menchu

A unique genre, this testimonio (or testimonial literature) re-scripts the history of Rigoberta Menchu, a Guatemalan peasant woman who dictated her story to anthropologist Elisabeth Burgos-Debrayi. Testimonios can range from the most factually based to the most fictional. In this critically-acclaimed testimonio, the anthropologist may have altered/edited some of Menchú’s words to create a more coherent story and Menchú may not have been physically present for some events. However, this Nobel Peace Prize winning text vividly describes an indigenous woman activist, and this book is both her, and her community’s testimony.

"Now a global bestseller, the remarkable life of Rigoberta Menchú, a Guatemalan peasant woman, reflects on the experiences common to many Indian communities in Latin America. Menchú suffered gross injustice and hardship in her early life: her brother, father and mother were murdered by the Guatemalan military. She learned Spanish and turned to catechistic work as an expression of political revolt as well as religious commitment. Menchú vividly conveys the traditional beliefs of her community and her personal response to feminist and socialist ideas. Above all, these pages are illuminated by the enduring courage and passionate sense of justice of an extraordinary woman."

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Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Maya

"The Popol Vuh is the most important example of Maya literature to have survived the Spanish conquest. It is also one of the world’s great creation accounts, comparable to the beauty and power of Genesis.

Most previous translations have relied on Spanish versions rather than the original K’iche’-Maya text. Based on ten years of research by a leading scholar of Maya literature, this translation with extensive notes is uniquely faithful to the original language. Retaining the poetic style of the original text, the translation is also remarkably accessible to English readers.

Illustrated with more than 80 drawings, photographs, and maps, Allen J. Christenson’s authoritative version brings out the richness and elegance of this sublime work of literature, comparable to such epic masterpieces as the Ramayana and Mahabharata of India or the Iliad and Odyssey of Greece."

Note: Based upon reviews, we recommend you read the paperback version as opposed to the Kindle version which badly handles the footnotes making the book difficult to digest.

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The President

"Guatemalan diplomat and writer Miguel Angel Asturias (1899–1974) began this award-winning work while still a law student. It is a story of a ruthless dictator and his schemes to dispose of a political adversary in an unnamed Latin American country usually identified as Guatemala. The book has been acclaimed for portraying both a totalitarian government and its damaging psychological effects. Drawing from his experiences as a journalist writing under repressive conditions, Asturias employs such literary devices as satire to convey the government’s transgressions and surrealistic dream sequences to demonstrate the police state’s impact on the individual psyche. Asturias’s stance against all forms of injustice in Guatemala caused critics to view the author as a compassionate spokesperson for the oppressed. 'My work,' Asturias promised when he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature, 'will continue to reflect the voice of the people, gathering their myths and popular beliefs and at the same time seeking to give birth to a universal consciousness of Latin American problems.'"

(A special thank you to book club member, Aisha Esbhani for the suggestion.)

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