Thursday, January 26, 2012

Wheels of Justice Slow, But Inevitable

     He presided over the deaths of thousands of unarmed Maya, but ten years ago I wrote, "It is far from certain whether Rios Montt will ever face charges in court." U.S. Pres. Ronald Reagan said the Guatemalan dictator got "a bum rap," honoring him as an ally.  Gen. Efrain Rios Montt seemed untouchable.

Exhumation. Xococ. A massacre during the rule of Rios Montt.
Photo: Mary Jo McConahay

This morning I am watching live streaming* from a Guatemala City courtroom where a prosecutor formally reads an astounding litany of villages and Maya names, citing the way each person lost his or her life, "by firearm," "by explosion," and more. Rios Montt is on trial. 

Rios Montt's predecessor Romeo Lucas Garcia, who also presided over massacres, died in 2006.  Two weeks ago, when Rios left his seat in Congress, he lost immunity against prosecution.  

This is how justice begins, with courage and patience.  Ten years back:

Sunday, January 15, 2012


I just read a jewel of a review for Maya Roads, one of very few published each year by this exciting magazine (and a great read for men, too).  What's curious is that while writing Roads, it never occurred to me it might some day be included in the genre of "Adventure."  Am I ecstatic my book reaches an audience of sports people, risk takers, and extreme travelers? Of course I am! Just as I'm thrilled it's hit #1 in Kindle Travel Literature, and relatively stratospheric levels in Kindle History and Kindle General Non-Fiction, even though in all those months (OK, years) of writing and revisions, often late into the night, my dream was to see the increasing pages someday published between physical covers, on physical shelves, in physical hands.  I've never used the comparison between publishing a book and giving birth to a baby, which might be another blog another day (just as whether the woman I am in Maya Roads is an adventurer is another kind of subject).  Yet in recent months I've seen the book that once was mine alone come to walk on its own legs, take on a life of its own, become different things to different people.  I couldn't wish for more.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Beginning 2012

At lunch today in the cafe of my favorite Guatemala City bookstore, Sophos, I looked up to see Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu standing near my table.  She wore a shiny blue huipil -- an Indian blouse -- and traditional long skirt.  Her round face seemed to be puzzling over a menu, as if deciding what to order when she sat down. 
I  took the opportunity to step over and greet her.

I've interviewed Rigoberta before and since the grand Prize, and although I'm sure she has little recollection of my own face, she gave me a friendly embrace and graciously accepted the card I gave her announcing my new book, Maya Roads. (It's not disrespectful here, but quite customary, to refer to personages like Menchu by first name.) Soon another woman entered and swept Rigoberta away.

As I sat across the open air cafe from the two, sipping the last of my hot lemon tea, my mind went back to the first time I met Rigoberta Menchu, in 1982, in the living room of a San Francisco priest where she had come to tell her story.  She was about twenty-two then, and her now-famous book, IRigoberta Menchu had not yet appeared. That evening, of course, was memorable, an account of violence and mayhem wrought on indigenous families like her own by a brutal army. Rigoberta seemed timid at that time, and even today can appear shy in public. I take it as a lovely coincidence, a good omen for the new year, that Jessica O'Dwyer, author of the brave and intimate adoption memoir, Mamalita, today posted an interview with me in which I happened to have described the day Rigoberta learned she had won the Prize.   You can see it here: