Monday, March 7, 2016

Hard Red Spring

Title:  Hard Red Spring
Author:  Kelly Kerney
Publication Information:  Viking. 2016. 448 pages.
ISBN:  0525429018 / 978-0525429012

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley and the Penguin First to Read Program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The cave in Father's mountain was just big enough for a little girl to walk inside, though Evie had never done so."

Favorite Quote:  "History repeats itself, but revolutions always think they're different."

Hard Red Spring is a history of a country told not through the eyes of its citizens but through the eyes of expatriates. Each of the four sections of the book centers on an American. The first is young Evie in 1902, an eight year old girl brought to Guatemala by her parents who dream of riches. The second is Dorie in 1954, the wife of the American ambassador to Guatemala. The third is Lenore in 1983, a missionary coming to Guatemala to do God's work. The fourth is Jean in 1999, a mother looking for the roots of her adopted daughter. All four women are connected through their history with Guatemala.

When I first realize the narrative voice, I am not sure. How do you tell an effective history of a place through the eyes of outsiders? However, then, the story takes over. When names and references to the past come come up, these "outsiders" may not recognize them, but I, as the reader, do. The information comes slowly and casually for the characters recounting it do not recognize the significance of a name or a place. The reader does. Sometimes, the connections startle, and sometimes they shock. Sometimes, I want to warn the characters of what I know. Of course, I can't, but that leaves me completely engaged in their story; this approach puts the reader at the heart of the story.

It is quite a story. For young Evie, it is the story of an adult world that she does not understand; it is a story of innocence lost. For the other three women, it is the story of despair, sorrow, loneliness, violence, and ultimately, love. For each of them comes the realization that the reality of life is nothing like what they expected it to be. It is harsher and darker than their vision; what is left to them is what they make of it or how they manage to deal with it.

The Guatemalan history surrounding them is a hundred years of economic instability, political unrest, racial strife, revolutions, and guerrilla warfare. Tied into these domestic upheavals is the contribution of foreign, particularly, US influences. This book confronts the political and fundamentalist religious beliefs that contribute to the unrest. It tackles the prejudices and clash between cultures - American, Guatemalan, and Mayan/Indian. It personalizes this history by placing it as the context of the story of these women. It turns factual history into an emotional story.

Note that the last few pages of the book present a historical time line. My recommendation would be to read this timeline first. I know very little about Guatemala's history; the timeline provides the historical context for this book. Having that brief introduction to the actual history serves to enhance the fiction that relates the history in such a personal way.

At times, the style of the book reminds me of the books of James Michener and Edward Rutherford. This book covers a century of history; the pace of the book is dense and slow at times. The connections between the people follow through all four sections, keeping the story line going, but the focus throughout remains the place. The symbolism and mythology of the mountain, the corn and the wheat fields, and the quetzal bird carries throughout the book and ties the story to the land  - Quetzaltenango or Xela, Guatemala. A memorable story.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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