I'm pleased to share this list of recommended books about Guatemala. It is by no means an exhaustive compilation, but hopefully it will serve as a guide to learning more about this "country of contrasts": beautiful and violent, tragic and inspiring.
These books focus on issues that I care most about: human rights, Guatemala's armed conflict, peace and justice, indigenous peoples, etc. Not included, for now at least, are travel guides or fiction. ("The Long Night of White Chickens" being the notable exception.)
Guatemala --even during the height of the armed conflict-- has never really been a hot topic for most folks in the U.S., despite how closely our histories are intertwined. Sadly, many of the titles listed below are becoming increasingly difficult to find, or are silently slipping out of print.
If you have a favorite book that's not on the list, let me know... I'll be glad to add it. Happy reading!
(BTW: The links will take you to an Amazon page. Should you purchase the book I would earn a fee from the purchase. If all goes well, at this rate I'll be able to retire in another 185 years! Give or take.)
Bishop Juan Gerardi, a leading human rights activist in Guatemala, was bludgeoned to death in his garage in 1998, two days after the presentation of a church-sponsored report implicating the military in the murders and disappearances of some 200,000 civilians. Known in Guatemala as “The Crime of the Century,” the Gerardi murder case confounded observers and generated controversy. Goldman’s meticulously researched book is an impressive organizational achievement, as well as a vital moral accounting.
Bitter Fruit is a comprehensive and insightful account of the CIA operation to overthrow the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala in 1954. This U.S. coup, although little-known in the States, has had a terrible repercussions for Guatemala... and continues to impact life there to this very day.
The searing memoir of Diana Ortiz, an American nun abducted and tortured in Guatemala. A detailed insight not only into the brutal methods used by the Guatemalan state in their attempt to silence progressive voices, but also of the strength, valor and resilience of the survivors. Her ongoing search for healing and justice shows that the human spirit is a force stronger than violence and fear.
During Guatemala’s internal armed conflict over 600 massacres occurred in villages destroyed by the army, one and a half million people were displaced, and more than 200,000 civilians murdered. 83% of the victims were Maya, the indigenous people of Guatemala. Buried Secrets brings these chilling statistics to life as it chronicles the journey of Mayan survivors seeking truth, justice, and community healing and demonstrates that the Guatemalan army carried out a systematic and intentional genocide against the Maya.
by Jean-Marie Simon
An amazing photojournalist, Jean-Marie Simon has been photographing people and reporting events from this hauntingly beautiful land. Her text and pictures tell the story of a people oppressed, particularly the Mayan Indians, whose lives have been so torn apart by political strife. This is a gorgeous book; yet at the same time it is incredibly heartbreaking in its portrayal of a civilization violated by the army, police, and paramilitary government forces. A must-see, must read book to better understand Guatemala's past and present.
by Greg Grandin and Deborah T. Levenson
This reader brings together 200+ texts and images in a broad introduction to Guatemala's history, culture, and politics. The editors sought to avoid representing the country only in terms of its long experience of conflict, racism, and violence. So this anthology includes not only the opinions of politicians, activists, and scholars, but also poems, songs, plays, jokes, novels, short stories, recipes, art, and photographs that capture the diversity of everyday life in Guatemala.
by Rigoberta Menchu & Elisabeth Burgos-Debray
The remarkable life of Rigoberta Menchú, a Guatemalan peasant woman, reflects on the experiences common to many indigenous communities in Latin America. Menchú overcame terrible injustice and hardship: her brother, father and mother were murdered by the Guatemalan military. These pages are illuminated by the courage and passion for justice of an extraordinary woman. Rigoberta was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992.
Traveling back and forth between the Guatemalan highlands and Providence, Rhode Island, Patricia followed the migration paths of a community of K'iche' Maya. Her study, filled with fascinating anecdotes, juxtaposes the context of post-war reconstruction in Guatemala, shaped by a fragile institutional peace process and emerging pan-Maya movement, with the hidden, marginal lives of mostly undocumented K'iche' immigrants in New England, and describes the continuous movement of people, money, symbols, and ideas between the two locations.
This a novel truly born of two worlds. It is the story of Roger Graetz, raised in a Boston suburb by an aristocratic Guatemalan mother, and his relationship with Flor de Mayo, the beautiful young Guatemalan orphan sent by his grandmother to live with his family as a maid. When, years later in the 1980s, Flor is murdered in Guatemala while running an orphanage, Roger returns to uncover the truth of her death. There he is reunited with Luis Moya, a childhood friend, and together they attempt to chronicle Flor's life story, a quest that will have unexpected, and unforgettable repercussions.
For over a decade Jonathan Moller has photographed communities uprooted by war in Guatemala. The result is Our Culture Is Our Resistance, a collection of portraits revealing stories of life and death, of hope and despair, and of struggles for survival, respect, and truth. The beauty and strength of Moller’s photographs display for the viewer the humanity and dignity of these Mayan indigenous peoples.
In 2005 human rights investigators stumbled upon the archives of the Guatemala's National Police, which, at 75 million pages, proved to be the largest trove of secret state records ever found in Latin America. The recovery and examination of the archives renewed fierce debates about history, memory, and justice. Weld explores Guatemala's struggles to manage this avalanche of evidence of past war crimes, providing a firsthand look at how postwar justice activists worked to reconfigure terror archives into implements of social change.
Though the civil war in Guatemala ended in December of 1996, the conflict still rages for human rights activist Jennifer K. Harbury. Searching for Everardo is an often chilling account of her search for her husband, a guerrilla leader, who was tortured and killed in 1992 by members of the Guatemalan army. Harbury spent years battling the governments of both Guatemala and the U.S. to discover his fate, gaining insights into the covert dealings of the CIA in Guatemala.
Decades of terror-inspired fear have led many Guatemalans to adopt a survival strategy of silence. The author’s triumph is that he finds a way for people to tell their stories, and it is through these stories—dramatic, intimate, heartbreaking—that we are shown the anatomy of a thwarted revolution that has relevance not only to Guatemala but also to countless places around the world where terror has been used as a political tool.
Laurie Levinger believes in the importance of bearing witness, of speaking the unspeakable out loud. In What War? she brings us the life stories of university students, their families, and other survivors of Guatemala's armed conflict. These stories remind us that the true cost of war is borne by the survivors, but so is the hope for peace.