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15 Aug

During the Christmas break of 1991-92, I left Colombia to study Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala for four weeks. I took a little time off from formal study to travel around Guatemala, hitting some of the required tourist destinations and a few more off beat locations. I went up to Santa Cruz de Quiché where I had a lovely discussion with an older gentleman in a a park who warned me about venerating too far out side the city limits. I had discovered that little old men in parks were wonderful people to talk to, revealing something of their own lives and a something about the place I was visiting.

This particular gentleman had spent time in the US, training with the military. He told me a little bit about the Civil War, without revealing too much about what he had done during that time.

when I got to Lake Atitlán, I visited a few of the Mayan Villages around the Lake, but was particularly struck by Santiago Atitlán, where many terrible human rights abuses had taken place. Indigenous people were assumed to be universally supporters of the guerrillas who were fighting against the government, and were targeted for brutal reprisals. At least 300 Maya from Santiago Atitlán are believed to have disappeared during the conflict. Two events of this era made international news. One was the assassination of an American missionary  in the church at Santiago Atitlán in 1981. In 1990, a spontaneous protest march to the army base on the edge of town was met by gunfire, resulting in the death of 13 unarmed civilians. Here is a picture of the church.


There is a memorial inside to the people who died.


I write all this to give a little of the personal background I brought to mu reading of  Caminar by Skila Brown. 


This novel in verse, set in 1981, tells the story of one boy who has to wrestle with this terrible period in history. Carlos must learn to survive when his village is attacked. Told from his point of view, the poems help make a difficult story approachable. And the variety of the free verse poems helps the reader see into the mind of a young boy trying to make sense of a very confusing period of history where there isn’t always a clear cut right or wrong, good or bad. Carlos knows soldiers and guerrillas. He knows people who have been killed for no apparent reason.  And he needs to figure out where he stands in this world of confusion.

This is a quick read that sheds light on a time and place not often seen in children;s books. 


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