cover image One Woman’s Journey Among the People of the Rainforest

One Woman’s Journey Among the People of the Rainforest

Mary Jo McConahay. Chicago Review, $16.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-56976-548-7

Equal parts travel narrative and meditation on Mayan cultural history, McConahay’s gripping memoir exposes the devastations of war. On a visit to Mexico City in 1973, McConahay saw an exhibit on the Lacandón Maya Indians that sparked an urge to find these last links to ancient Mayan culture. Over nearly four decades, she returned to Mayan sites in the vast rainforest spanning Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas and Guatemala’s northern state of Petén while working as a journalist. She records a personal odyssey along the clay roads running through the rainforest in which she participates in an archeological dig, an exhumation at the site of a massacre by government soldiers, and a Zapatista national convention; interviews Mayan priests, missionaries, and survivors of civil war; visits caves, standing stones, and burial mounds; and illuminates surprising holdouts (indigenous women, adorned with dead birds, who speak the Lacandón language). McConahay expresses her reverence for the rainforest with graceful imagery, describing, for example, the act of creation while listening to the sounds inside a waterfall. As the end of the fourth Maya era, on December 21, 2012, approaches, attention has focused on Mayan prophesies of apocalypse. McConahay’s insightful memoir suggests another story: Mayans’ veneration of nature, respect for human dignity, and expansive view of time are powerful antidotes to the poverty, drug-trafficking, violence, kidnappings, and destruction that has plagued rainforest settlements for decades. (Oct.)