Reading Guatemala

Reading Guatemala

Back in 2005 I went to Guatemala for three weeks – my first real experience of travelling in a developing country. The trip started inauspiciously as my plane to Mexico City was diverted around the Gulf of Mexico to avoid Hurricane Katrina which was making its way towards New Orleans. However, that was thankfully as near to danger as I came on the trip. I loved visiting the beautiful city of Antigua, the stunning Mayan remains at Tikal, a sleepy retreat on Lake Izabel and the mountains around Chichicastenango, Lake Atitlan and Quetzaltenango.

Along the way I read some fascinating books to get a sense of the country and its very troubled past and present.

The Full Montezuma by Peter Moore was an extremely light and easy start, travel writing by a young Westerner seeing the sights for the first time as I was and trying to make sense of it all.

Having dipped my toe in the water I then moved on to Time Among the Maya by Ronald Wright. I was completely captivated by the Mayan site of Tikal and eager to learn more about the Mayan civilisation which created it. It is a truly excellent book and makes you realise how close in time historically we are to Mayans from that lost world. It is a brilliant interweaving of the places, the people today and the history of a people.

I then moved in to The Lost Chronicles of the Maya Kings by David Drew and was particularly fascinated by chapters on the discovery of the Maya and conquest and survival.

Having learned a bit about Guatemala’s history I was then keen to understand more about its very troubled more recent past and present. A good place to start was the autobiography of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu. I, Rigoberta Menchu edited by Elisabeth Burgos-Debray tells the story of her early life, including the murder of her family by the Guatemalan military. It describes her political awakening and the fight for justice for her people and her country. Crossing Borders edited by Ann Wright goes on to describe her work as a peace envoy after winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992.

Finally, I wanted to try some Guatemalan literature so went straight to the winner of the Nobel Prize for literature Miguel Angel Asturias. The President is the story of a ruthless dictator and the impact of his regime on his people. The Mirror of Lida Sal is a charming collection of short stories based on Mayan Myths and Guatemalan legends.

I would love to hear if anyone has read other books on Guatemala. Since my trip there I have followed the snippets of news and photos that appear in The Guardian newspaper from time-to-time and am still really interested in the country’s development and in its history.