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Paradise in Ashes: A Guatemalan Journey of Courage, Terror, and Hope
By Beatriz Manz

18 August 2004


Beatriz Manz, a professor of geography and ethnic studies, began studying the Mayan inhabitants of Santa María Tzejá, an isolated Guatemalan hillside village, in the early 1970s, as a graduate student in anthropology. In Paradise in Ashes, Manz reconstructs three decades of the village’s history, using interviews with peasants, guerillas, community leaders, and members of the paramilitary.

According to her account, peasants settled the isolated rainforest paradise in the 1970s, later to be ambushed by U.S.-backed militia, who slaughtered many of Santa María Tzejá’s inhabitants. Some survivors of the massacre fled the country, while others eventually returned and rebuilt the village. Manz sets the story of this village within the broader political context of Guatemalan history. In the process, she reveals the brutal consequences of the CIA-backed coup of 1954 that overthrew the country’s democratically elected government. By detailing the historical evolution of one village, she creates a compassionate portrait of a people who have paid what Mexican author Carlos Fuentes has called the “high price of a political mistake.”

University of California Press, 2004; 311 pages