The Best Books about Contemporary Guatemalan Culture

A Guatemalan football fan
A Guatemalan football fan | © Ruth L / Flickr
Jack Guy

Guatemala is a fascinating country with a turbulent recent history. Here are some of the best books you should read to further understand Guatemalan culture.

Maya woman sells flowers at Chichicastenango, Guatemala

Scandals in the House of Birds by Nathaniel Tarn

Contemporary Maya culture is undeniably complex, and Tarn does his best to untangle it here. He focuses on a Tz’utujil community living on the shores of Lake Atitlan, providing a great snapshot of daily life in a rural community.

The Guatemala Reader by Greg Grandin and Deborah T. Levenson

If you want a broad overview of Guatemalan culture, this is the book for you. The authors have compiled more than 200 texts and images that evoke the history, culture and politics of the country without only focusing on the civil war.

It’s not unusual to see people travelling in the back of pickup trucks in Guatemala

The Long Night of White Chickens by Francisco Goldman

Guatemalan-American writer Goldman builds a fictional narrative around real-life locations. The story focuses on the murder of a nanny, which is more common than you’d think among middle- and upper-class Guatemalans.

Homies and Hermanos by Robert Brenneman

Brenneman brings together two important contemporary themes – gangs and evangelical Christians – in this riveting book. Here we see how the growing popularity of evangelism has even reached the ranks of Guatemala’s street gangs, whose members have been turning to religion in order to escape their lives of crime.

I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala by Rigoberta Menchu & Elisabeth Burgos-Debray

Maya activist Rigoberta Menchú, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, wrote this book about her fight for justice. It later transpired that not all of the stories she tells are entirely true, so take it with a pinch of salt, but the broad strokes are well worth reading.

Rigoberta Menchú

City of God by Kevin Lewis O’Neill

Another book that deals with the growth of Protestantism in Guatemala, “City of God” tries to explain just why evangelical churches continue to thrive in the country. It’s a great read for any visitors to Guatemala who have been struck by the religiosity of the place.

In Search of Providence: Transnational Mayan Identities by Patricia Foxen

Every year thousands of Guatemalans migrate in search of new opportunities, and one particular community of K’iche’ Maya have made a special bond with Providence, Rhode Island. In this book Foxen explores the ways that the movement of people, money, and ideas affects the two places.

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