Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Guatemala: The Girl from Chimel, by Rigoberta Menchu

Something easy to follow the last two books, which were rather challenging. With my book-buying budget somewhat depleted, I turned to our local library and found two options for Guatemala: Severina, by Rodrigo Ray Rosa, or Rigoberta Menchu's The Girl from Chimel. Unfortunately the first was in Spanish, and my Spanish is pretty minimal at this point (although I do want to learn more). And "The Girl from Chimel" is a children's book, but I thought I would read it anyway - I can always read something else later.

Rigoberta Menchu is an indigenous Maya Indian, born into an impoverished Indian peasant family in 1952. She is a noted Maya activist and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 for her work, despite being forced into exile several times during the vicious 36 year long war. "The Girl from Chimel" is an account of her village childhood, of stories told by her family, of harmony with nature, of a lost world that has been changed forever by conflict and brutal genocide.

As it's a children's book, these atrocities are only hinted at. For instance she says "since bees are sacred, their escape could lead to an evil curse. And that's just what happened. But I'm not going to talk about that now. Maybe later."

In another chapter, she says "..when the war began and the villagers had to hide out in the mountains, something magical and unbelievable happened. The river disappeared." She attributes this to the river being scared, and suggests "since a great act of wickedness made it escape, only a great act of kindness can make it come back."

The authors very name, Rigoberta, is a result of discounting the ways of the native people. Although given the name of her grandmother, Li Mi'n (which means "Sunday"), the clerk refused to register this name because it "doesn't exist". As she was born on St Rigoberta's Day, this is the name under which her birth was registered.

The book is illustrated by Domi and translated by David Unger. It was published by House of Anansi Press. I found it quite delightful and was left wanting to know more - perhaps I will seek out her memoir, "I, Rigoberta Menchu" for more of the story behind the disappearance of the river and other events. (I have just found that her account is quite controversial - will have to do more research into this).

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