guatemala reading list
With a violent history, much written about Guatemala can be hard to read. Here is a selection of books with ancient history, present day government, early travel writing, and stories by indigenous people.
- I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman In Guatemala by Rigoberta Menchu, translated by Anne Write. Verso, 1983. This is the autobiography of Rigoberta Menchu, winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize. She is a Quiche-Mayan woman who grew up in a community in the Guatemalan Highlands. Her book recounts her childhood growing up in poverty and her work at home and on the coffee fincas. She lived through the civil war, worked to educate herself and fought for the rights of her community and the indigenous people in Guatemala.
- Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala by Stephen Schlesinger & Stephen Kinzer. 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. First published in 1982, this book has become a classic, a textbook case of the relationship between the United States and the Third World. The authors make extensive use of U.S. government documents and interviews with former CIA and other officials. It is a warning of what happens when the United States abuses its power.
- Men of Maize by Miguel Angel Asturias. London and New York: Verso, 1988. The Guatemalan literature Nobel Prize winner writes about the mixture of life and mythology among the Maya of Guatemala.
- Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan by John Lloyd Stephens,illustrated by Frederick Catherwood. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993, c1843. This is a beautiful photo- and drawing-filled, superbly edited edition of the classic travel book by America's first major travel writer. Stephens discovered many Mayan ruins, including Copán, which he bought for $50.
- Antigua Guatemala: The City and Its Heritage by Elizabeth Bell. An in-depth description of the city of Antigua including its history, 33 monuments and historical sites, museums, houses, fiestas and holidays. It also covers the physical environment and historical figures, and provides a record of earthquakes and Fuego Volcano Eruptions and has an extensive bibliography. If you spend any time in Antigua, chances are you'll meet Elizabeth.
- Beyond The Mexique Bay by Aldous Huxley. Classical account of cruise through Central America in the 1920's. Beautiful photographic plates. Insight into the Victorian/Post Victorian American era and the modernization/collapse of Colonial Britian. Out of print, but you may find in the library. Interesting to compare travel then with now.
- The Guatemala Reader: History, Culture, Politics edited by Greg Grandin, Deborah Levenson, Elizabeth Oglesby. Duke University Press, 2011 This reader brings together more than 200 texts and images in a broad introduction to Guatemala’s history, culture, and politics. Many pieces were originally published in Spanish, and most of those appear in English for the first time.
- The Heart of the Sky by Peter Canby. New Yorker editor Peter Canby spent two years studying Mayan culture, both past and present, to provide this vivid portrait of these enigmatic people, their life style and beliefs. A fascinating glimpse into a world long forgotten by outsiders.
- Guatemalan Journey by Stephen Connely Benz. 1996 University of Texas Press Benz casts an honest and funny modern traveler’s eye on the country.
- Sacred Monkey River by Christopher Shaw. Shaw explores by canoe the jungle-clad basin of the Río Usumacinta, a cradle of ancient Maya civilization along the Mexico Guatemala border.