August 09, 2004

Book Review: Paradise in Ashes

This weekend, I finished reading Paradise in Ashes: A Guatemalan Journey of Courage, Terror, and Hope<. Beatriz Manz, the author, is a professor of Anthropology at UC Berkeley. The book is her chronicle of over 30 years following the creation, destruction, and resurrection of Santa Maria Tzeja, a village in Guatemala?s rainforest.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking to better understand the Guatemalan Civil War, in particular the impact it had on rural indigenous and poor populations. Unlike other books on the topic, like Bitter Fruit, this book examines everything from the perspective of the people who lived through it. It largely avoids the political issues which really were not of much interest in this village. Instead, it focuses on the harsh realities of life for these people.

Santa Maria Tzeja was not a ?normal? village (interestingly Manz says no such thing exists). It was founded by a cooperative group of settlers who decided that battling the rain forest in order to have land was better than continuing in the cycle of suffering and exploitation. These settlers started this movement in the Ixcan and others followed suit. But it was also one of the first places that gave varied levels of support to the guerilla when the civil war heated up. The village was later destroyed by the Guatemalan military in one of the scorched earth initiatives. Many of the villagers went into exile in Mexico, others hid for years in the rain forest, while others fell into the hands of the military. It goes on to describe the subsequent militarization of the village, when many of the members were forced to serve in the infamous Civil Patrols and the government brought in Evangelical poor to help reduce the cohesion of the community members. The book shows how many members gave in and cooperated with the military, mostly to protect their own lives. It also goes into depth into how their memories were shaped from living in a militarized village. Eventually, the war ends and Santa Maria Tzeja, with the help of many NGOs, managed to bring back the original settlers and remove the Evangelicals in a humane fashion. It describes the difficulties faced in recreating what had been an incredibly cohesive cooperative based on Liberation Theology, as those who fled to Mexico and those who stayed had changed dramatically in the ten years since their separation.

This novel was a fascinating look into the war from the eyes of an anthropologist and historian. I learned about it from an angle very different from anything else I have read. But it also was captivating for another reason. It helped me to better understand the world from which many of our birthmothers come. As I was reading the early parts of the book where people were forced to work in the treacherous fincas, I could not help but to analogize this experience with that of my daughter?s birthmom, who also works the fincas. When I started thinking about the timeframe and her age, I realized that she may have lived through some of the terror that the people of Santa Maria Tzeja did.

So I?d highly recommend this book to anyone looking to better understand the socio-political environment in Guatemala, its recent history, and what led to the country it is today. This is not a book that goes into detail about US intervention, the cold war, or the politics of the war. Because, as is so often the case in war, most of the people impacted by the war were not interested in these things, they only wanted some land to grow corn and feed their families. It?s a pretty quick read, and once you get into it, you won?t want to put the book down.

If any of you have other Guatemala or adoption related books that you?d like to review on Guatadopt, please send them my way. I?m not promising to read them and write the review myself, I just mean for you to write it and we?ll try to get it on the site.

Posted by Kevin at 06:36 PM

June 16, 2003

Books of Interest

Based on a discussion of books (lists and personal emails)....I just ordered these two books. I have long suspected that US and UN organizations tend to make blanket assumptions on how to solve a problem in other countries without much thought to the consequences. A few years ago, I did a little international travel which was an eye my Algebra teacher would have said: You have to work through the ENTIRE equation.


LORDS OF POVERTY: A good explaination how world organizations worsen 3rd world


THE ROAD TO HELL: Talks about how large aide organizations are often clueless
about who/how to help.



Posted by Kelly at 09:04 AM

March 08, 2003

Lifebooks, Scrapbooks and Tools for the Scrapbook Challenged

During adoption, many of us learn the importance of lifebooks. Those of us who have not grasped scrapbooking are left at an extreme disadvantage. But there is hope!!! The first step is understanding the difference between a scrapbook and a lifebook. The most basis difference is that the lifebook is a private storybook for the child and a scrapbook is a public display of event photos. Yes, you can find Lifebooks similar to Babybooks that you can purchase online....and this is pretty appealing to those of us that are afraid of letting this task slip through our hands. However, every story is different and the flexibility of Scrapbooking helps define that unique story. A few books on the market encourage hand-made Lifebooks and help adopting parents create them.

I found the following book to be helpful in not only providing a structure, but for giving ideas. Though, I believe is helpful to write it in the wording for a young child to review, I am using the same concepts to create a Lifebook that will be informative to the adult adoptee.

LifeBooks: Creating a Treasure for the Adopted Child

So, that still leaves me with funky sissors, colored paper and my digital camera. But I think I found a nice package that will help convert my ideas into a nice Lifebook WITHOUT advertising my scrapbooking shortcomings. The software is only about $20 and you can purchase it from ULEAD called Photo Express - My Scrapbook Edition. This provides a number of ready made templates and some pretty flexible tools, clipart, frames, and techniques for creating a scrapbook. It was much more powerful than I anticipated for a mere $20 and has already bypassed some of my more expensive tools in its ability to help me create a Lifebook. I will warn you that there are some things that are not as intuitive as I think they should be.....but it is a minor hurdle!

OK, here are some other useful tools:
Acid Free, Archival Sheet protectors
Epson Scrapbook Kit

In the end, these tools have put scrapbooking and lifebooking in focus for many of us geeks, slackers, and creatively challenged;-)


Posted by Kelly at 01:10 PM

Book Review - In Focus Guatemala

This book gets FIVE STARS from me (not a literary critic just a reader!). I was searching for a book that would introduce me to the culture and history of Guatemala without the Travel Guide slant that is so easy to come by! By the second paragraph, I was hooked and immediately I was steadily traveling through the history of the country. Though I only traversed 5 pages, I had read through several interesting aspects of the history and was constantly stopping to share my new-found knowledge with my husband.

I recommend it to ANY adopting parents that want to know a little more of the Guatemalan History for their child!!!!


Posted by Kelly at 12:07 PM