Books to Read Before Traveling to Guatemala

Before I travel anywhere I enjoy reading about the destination as a way to orient myself.  I'll read travel guides, biographies, fiction, style guides, history, cookbooks and even children's books that discuss my desired destination.   After reading a selection of works I feel better prepared to really appreciate the location I am visiting.  Check out my Guatemalan selection here.

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La Nina de Guatemala is an excellent poem to read before visiting.  I learned about it from a beautiful 95 year old woman, Hortensia, who happens to be my husband's grandmother.

Hortensia loves to chatter.  She talks about men and women she knew during her lifetime and about their stories.  She also recites poems, songs and legends that she has heard.  She has favorites that she will retell over and over and other stories she may only mention once.

This particular visit to Guatemala she seemed to be focusing on a poem that every Guatemalan learns in school.  The poem tells the sad and unrequited love story between the daughter of President Miguel Granados (1871 - 1873), Maria Garcia Granados y Saboria, and a Cuban artist, José Marti.

The Granados home served as a sort of salon for the Latin American artists and thinkers at that time.  José Marti was invited to the home and this is where he met Maria.  The two fell in love, but Marti could not become her husband because he was already promised to another.

As the legend goes, Maria, young and unable to bear the grief, died shortly after learning of his marriage.  Eleven years after her death Marti wrote the following poem as a memorial to Maria.  In Spanish the poem is a beautiful, lyrical work of art.  Translating it to English looses much of the effectiveness of the words and styling.

La Niña de Guatemala

Quiero, a la sombra de un ala,
contar este cuento en flor:
la niña de Guatemala,
la que se murió de amor.

Eran de lirios los ramos;
y las orlas de reseda
y de jazmín; la enterramos
en una caja de seda...

Ella dio al desmemoriado
una almohadilla de olor;
él volvió, volvió casado;
ella se murió de amor.

Iban cargándola en andas
obispos y embajadores;
detrás iba el pueblo en tandas,
todo cargado de flores...

Ella, por volverlo a ver,
salió a verlo al mirador;
él volvió con su mujer,
ella se murió de amor.

Como de bronce candente,
al beso de despedida,
era su frente -¡la frente
que más he amado en mi vida!...

Se entró de tarde en el río,
la sacó muerta el doctor;
dicen que murió de frío,
yo sé que murió de amor.

Allí, en la bóveda helada,
la pusieron en dos bancos:
besé su mano afilada,
besé sus zapatos blancos.

Callado, al oscurecer,
me llamó el enterrador;
nunca más he vuelto a ver
a la que murió de amor.

English Translation:

The Girl of Guatemala
At a wing’s shade, I want to tell This story, like a flower:
The girl from Guatemala, The girl that died of love.
The flowers were lilies, And mignonette ornaments
And jasmine: we buried her In a silk casket.
She gave to the forgetful A perfumed sachet:
He came back, came back married: She died of love.
She was carried in a procession By bishops and ambassadors:
Behind were the town’s people in groups
They were all carrying flowers.
She, wanted to see him again,
She stepped out to the balcony:
He came back with his wife: She died of love.
She went into the river at dusk,
She was dead when the doctor pulled her out:
Some say she died of coldness: But I know she died of love.