November 21, 2009

Take Me Guatemala

Take Me Away Saturday

As a lover of books that take place in different cultures and are about different cultures, Take Me Away is a way to share this love with you, my readers and friends!

Each week I feature a different country or culture (ex. Cherokee, Jewish, etc. that do not have a specific country per se) and list some books that can transport you there. (Note: ex. not necessarily books by a German or an Australian, but books set in Germany or Australia.)

I am keeping a map of the countries we visit and a list of the specific cultures, which you can see at the bottom of this post. Here is a list of where we've been so far:
New Zealand
Peru Vietnam
Triple Threat
Inuit Culture Egypt
Australian Aborigines
Brazil India
Sierra Leone
Sioux Nation
Spain Japan
Haiti Kenya
Norway Taiwan
Turkey Chile

This week we are visiting the country of Guatemala. Here is an easy to see map of Guatemala:
For more information on this country, click here.

Click on the titles of the books below to read reviews and/or purchase the book.

Silence on the Mountain: Stories of Terror, Betrayal, and Forgetting in Guatemala by Daniel Wilkinson

Silence on the Mountain is a virtuoso work of reporting and a masterfully plotted narrative tracing the history of Guatemala's thirty-six-year internal war, a conflict that claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people, the vast majority of whom died (or were "disappeared") at the hands of the U.S.-backed military goverment. In 1993 Daniel Wilkinson, a young human rights worker, begins to investigate the arson of a coffee plantation's manor house by a band of guerrillas. The questions surrounding this incident soon broaden into a complex mystery that compels Wilkinson to seek out an impressive cross-section of the country's citizens, from coffee workers to former guerrillas to small-town mayors to members of the ruling elite. Silence on the Mountain reveals a buried history that has never been told before, focusing on those who were most affected by Guatemala's half-century of violence, the displaced native people and peasants who slaved on the coffee plantations. Decades of terror-inspired fear have led Guatemalans to adopt a survival strategy of silence so complete it verges on collective amnesia. Wilkinson's great triumph is that he finds a way for people to tell their stories, and it is through these stories -- dramatic, intimate, heartbreaking -- that we come to see the anatomy of a thwarted revolution that is relevant not only to Guatemala but to any country where terror has been used as a political tool. Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Genre: Nonfiction, War, Human Rights

Tree Girl by Ben Mikaelsen
In her remote Guatemalan village, 14-year-old Gabriela is known as Tree Girl for her habit of fleeing to the forest and climbing high to escape the world. When guerrilla warfare comes to her area, her life is changed forever. Soldiers eventually discover the small school she attends, beat and murder her teacher, and shoot the other students. Tree climbing saves Gabi from that massacre, and she is away from home when her village is destroyed and nearly all of her family members are murdered. In the course of her flight north to a Mexican refugee camp, she again hides in a tree while soldiers rape and murder the inhabitants of another village. After arriving at the camp, Gabi cares for two elderly women and her one surviving sister and eventually founds a school. Her concern for others helps her recover from the trauma of her experiences. This is a graphic portrayal of the worst of civil war, based on one refugee's story. The author's anger that the U.S. government trained and supported soldiers who committed such atrocities is clear. Details of Guatemalan life are woven throughout the book, but it lacks the sensory descriptions that would allow readers to visualize the setting. Still, the action moves quickly, and Gabi's courage and determination are evident throughout. Readers not put off by the violence should find this an instructive and satisfying survival story. Publisher: HarperTeen Genre: Young Adult, Fiction, Human Rights

Abuela's Weave by Omar S. Castaneda and Enrique O. Sanchez
A 1993 Parent's Choice Award honoree, this story about the importance of family pride and personal endurance introduces children to the culture of Guatemala through the eyes of little Esperanza, who works with her abuela--her grandmother--on weavings to sell at the public market. Full color throughout. Ages 4-8. Publisher: Lee & Low Books Genre: Children's Books, Fiction, Cultural Awareness for Children

Grave Secrets (Temperance Brennan Series #5) by Kathy Reichs
Summer, 1982: Soldiers enter a Guatemalan village and massacre its women and children. Today, families refer to their lost members as the disappeared. Enter Temperance Brennan, about to confront the most heartbreaking case of her career. Out of shadow graves fading clues emerge. Something savage happened in the highlands two decades ago. Is it happening again? Four girls are missing and a human rights investigator is murdered as Tempe listens to her screams on the phone. Will Tempe be the next victim? Weaving cutting-edge science into a chillingly realistic tale of suspense, Grave Secrets is Kathy Reichs' most accomplished novel yet. Publisher: Simon & Schuster Genre: Fiction, Thriller

Time Among the Maya: Travels in Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico by Ronald Wright
The Maya created one of the world's most brilliant civilizations, famous for its art, astronomy, and deep fascination with the mystery of time. Despite collapse in the ninth century, Spanish invasion in the sixteenth, and civil war in the twentieth, eight million people in Guatemala, Belize, and southern Mexico speak Mayan languages and maintain their resilient culture to this day. Traveling through Central America's jungles and mountains, Ronald Wright explores the ancient roots of the Maya, their recent troubles, and prospects for survival. Embracing history, anthropology, politics, and literature, Time Among the Maya is a riveting journey through past magnificence and the study of an enduring civilization with much to teach the present. Publisher: Grove/Atlantic Inc. Genre: Nonfiction, History, Ancient Civilizations

Guatemala Rainbow by Gianni Vecchiato
Guatemala is one of the few places on earth where traditional textile arts from ancient cultures survive: Mayan spinners and weavers still produce the traditional motifs developed by their ancestors, but modern dyes add brilliant, luminous color to their textiles. This book presents 150 superb photographs by Gianni Vecchiato, providing a magnificent view of the textiles people, and daily life of Guatemala. It is truly a feast for the eye and spirit. Publisher: Pomegranate Communications Genre: Nonfiction, Photography, Textiles & Design

The River of Lost Voices: Stories from Guatemala by Mark Brazaitis
Winner of the 1998 Iowa Short Fiction award, this remarkable debut collection chronicles life in the impoverished Guatemalan towns of Santa Cruz and nearby Coban. The physical distance these 10 stories cover is short, but the geography of human spirit it traverses is vast. In "Gemelas," a young woman reacts with a mixture of happiness and jealousy at the prospect of her twin sister's marriage to a wealthy landowner; it is her fate to follow her sister down a tragic path. A father, his daughter and a young woman grapple with fear of abandonment and aloneness in "How They Healed." A young boy experiences the erotic thrill of mystery when he is seduced by his employer, whose face he never sees, in "Bathwater." Pervading each tale is ex-Peace Corps volunteer Brazaitis's understanding of the intricate social stratifications of his characters' rural community. Adopting the conventions of folktales in sophisticated ways, Brazaitis controls his narratives with sparse dialogue and omniscient or calmly retrospective narrators. His admirable restraint anchors the stories and connects them by a tight chain of motifs, while his lucid prose directs attention away from itself and toward the characters who provide their color and drama. Publisher: University of Iowa Press Genre: Fiction, Short Stories, Legends & Folklore, Cultural History

Silent Wing: A Novel by Jose Bernardo

Set near the turn of the last century and based on the life of Cuban poet and revolutionary hero José Martí, Silent Wing bursts with passion, sensuality, and turbulence as it tells one of the most famous love stories in all of Latin America: The tale of the desperate and heartbreaking conflict an idealistic young man experiences when he finds himself caught between the woman he loves and the one he has promised to wed. Julián, a charismatic Cuban poet possessed with a passionate love of freedom, is exiled from his homeland for demonstrating in favor of his country's independence from the tyrannical hold of Spain. He lands in Mexico City, where he proposes marriage to Lucía, the spinster daughter of a Cuban lawyer exiled in that city. Knowing that the wedding must wait until he establishes himself professionally, Julián goes to Guatemala City, where a teaching job awaits and where Lucía is to follow him in time. What Julián has not reckoned on is that in Guatemala he will meet and fall madly in love with Sol, daughter of that country's great liberator, Don Manuel. For Sol, on the verge of womanhood, Julián is her first love, and she places her trust in him with total abandon. But Julián, a man of great principle, knows that even though he loves Sol beyond limits, he is expected to honor the pledge he made to Lucía, no matter how great the sacrifice, or how tragic the consequences. Vividly portraying an era of honor and almost mystical innocence, yet intricately interwoven with political intrigue and turmoil, José Raúl Bernardo -- whose previous novel, The Secret of the Bulls, was named one of the best works of first fiction for 1996 by the Los Angeles Times -- weaves the kind of rich historical tapestry that has made great bestsellers of such novels as The Autumn of the Patriarch and Like Water for Chocolate. Publisher: Simon & Schuster Genre: Fiction, Historical Romance

This is by no means an exhaustive list. There are tons of others out there. Do you want to share recommendations that feature Guatemala? Or do you want to share other thoughts? Please leave a note in the comments!

Be sure to check back for another trip in books! Here is what is coming up next:

November 28: The African country of Zimbabwe
December 5: The Middle Eastern country of Yemen

The Take Me Away Map of Countries Visited:

Cultures Visited:
Sioux Culture
Australian Aborigines
Inuit Culture


  1. I'm excited because I have Tree Girl upstairs in my scrap/book room!! I will actually be able to visit Guatemala!!! I know I've told you this before but I love this feature and all of the work you put into it!!! Thanks Rebecca!!!

  2. I recently read Journey of Dreams, which features a family torn apart during the Guatemalan uprisings. Thanks for giving me some other ones to try!

  3. I love, LOVE your Take Me Away feature. A number of these books piqued my interest, including Tree Girl (sounds like a compelling, though painful story) and Abuela's Weave (gorgeous!)

  4. Great feature. I love reading this every week. you always pick such interesting things! :-)


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