Many of his stories capture the essence of living in and around Santa Curz Verapaz close to Coban, where I’ve worked and traveled many times and is not far from where I was with the Peace Corps. Alta Verapaz is exciting due to its cloud forests, Maya inhabitants, and the historic presence of Germans who dominated the coffee plantations at the turn of the century. And since I’m working on my forthcoming book, The Guatemala Reader, this seemed an excellent time to pull it off my bookshelf.
Guatemala is a country of extremes — a place of terrible cruelty, apparent in its thirty-six-year civil war, and incredible beauty in its dramatic landscapes and indigenous cultures. His book is a captivating collection of short stories that he draws from his experience as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) in Guatemala. Brazaitis skillfully weaves together tales that explore the magic and sorrow of the region.
Set against the backdrop of Guatemala’s tumultuous history, including the thirty-six-year civil war and the influence of the Spanish Conquest, Brazaitis brings to life the impact of these events on the lives of many of the inhabitants in the region. Through stories like “Jose del Rio” and “Bathwater,” the author combines magical realism with political intrigue, offering a thought-provoking examination of the country.
He highlights the impact of political intrigue and violence, which impacted so many, like this scene in “Jose del Rio.”
“Three nights later, five guerrillas entered our house with rifles. When they came, I was awake, but they pulled my father, mother, and sisters out of bed and stood us in our courtyard. The leader gave a short speech, then said he would take only my father. Trembling so violently his teeth chattered, my father broke toward the back fence, and in their haste to kill him, the guerrillas shot my mother in the neck.”
While the collection touches on political themes, it is not a political work. Instead, it focuses on the struggles of ordinary men and women as they navigate hardship and misfortune. Brazaitis gives voice to Guatemala’s indigenous population, highlighting the rich cultures and languages, such as Pokomchi and Cakchiquel, that often remain hidden beneath the surface of assimilation. A colorful piece of Maya intricately woven cloth is the backdrop of the book’s cover.
One passage effectively expresses the strategy of the non-Mayan/Ladino population to eradicate the Mayan culture:
“You think you have a history, you stupid Indians. You think that because your history is ancient, it’s immortal. But history is only as lasting as the people who remember it. And we’re eliminating your history year by year. We marry your sisters, pull their “cortes” off them, and get them to speak our language. The army fills its ranks with Indian soldiers and sends them off to kill Indian guerrillas…”
The stories in The River of Lost Voices are profoundly moving, revealing both the redemption and loss that can be found amidst the tumultuous waves of history. Brazaitis’ writing is poignant and evocative, allowing readers to connect with the characters and their experiences. Through his restrained prose and skilled storytelling, he creates a vivid tapestry that transports readers to the heart of Guatemala.
Overall, Stories from this book will be a joy for those interested in exploring the complexities of Guatemala’s history, culture, and the human spirit. Mark Brazaitis’ skillful storytelling and deep understanding of the country make this collection both captivating and revealing.
- Publisher : University Of Iowa Press; 1st edition (September 1, 1998)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 200 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0877456429
- ISBN-13 : 978-0877456421
- Item Weight : 5 ounces
- Dimensions : 5 x 0.5 x 9.25 inches
Mark Brazaitis is one of the talented Returned Peace Corps Volunteer writers; He’s the author of six books, including Julia & Rodrigo, winner of the 2012 Gival Press Novel Award, and The Incurables: Stories, winner of the 2012 Richard Sullivan Prize from the University of Notre Dame Press. Stories in The Incurables originally appeared in Ploughshares, The Sun, Confrontation, Cimarron Review, Post Road, and the Notre Dame Review. Kay Redfield Jamison said about The Incurables, “The stories are wry, compassionate, and provide a deep understanding of the strengths and frailties of human nature and the ways in which individuals play out the hard cards they are dealt.”
Brazaitis’ book of poems, The Other Language, won the 2008 ABZ Press First Book Prize, judged by Heather McHugh. Poems in the collection first appeared in The Sun, Witness, Notre Dame Review, Poetry East, Poetry International, and other literary magazines. One of the poems in the collection, “Soccer Until Dusk,” is featured in Uncommon Journeys, a publication of the Peace Corps, and on the Peace Corps World Wise Schools’ Web site.
Brazaitis is also the author of The River of Lost Voices: Stories from Guatemala, winner of the 1998 Iowa Short Fiction Award, and Steal My Heart, a novel published in 2000 by Van Neste Books. His second collection of stories, An American Affair, won the 2004 George Garrett Fiction Prize from Texas Review Press and was published in 2006.
A former Peace Corps volunteer and technical trainer, Brazaitis is a professor of English and the director of the West Virginia Writers’ Workshop at West Virginia University. Born in East Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Morgantown, West Virginia, with his wife and two daughters.
Mark Walker was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala and spent over forty years helping disadvantaged people in the developing world with agencies like Food for the Hungry, Make A Wish International, and Hagar USA. His book, Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond, was recognized by the Arizona Literary Association. His second book, My Saddest Pleasures: 50 Years on the Road, won the 2023 Peace Corps Writers’ Award for Best Travel Book. He’s a contributing writer for Literary Traveler, Wanderlust Journal, and The Authors’ Show. “The Million Mile Walker Review: What We’re Reading And Why” can be found in the Arizona Authors’ Association Newsletter, Authors Digest. His wife and three children were born in Guatemala. You can learn more at www.MillionMileWalker.com.