The lives of three very different women during the Guatemalan coup d’état of 1954 are brought to life in Susan Garzon’s vivid historical novel, Reading the Knots.
Meg Fuente is an American, the wife of an archaeologist who is digging on his own estate with the help of local Indian natives. Feeling marginalized by her husband’s growing preoccupation with his work, she spends time with a group of left-wing activists—in particular, the teacher Sergio—in the local town. Patricia Baldt Contreras is the teenage daughter of a local coffee planter, seeking to escape her privileged upbringing and become an archaeologist. And Naomi Quespe is a young native girl, the sister of the excavation site foreman. When a major discovery is made at the dig, the fallout puts lives at risk and changes all three forever.
This is an absorbing story set in a dramatic moment in Guatemalan history. Although early on there’s much background information about the wider political situation, it’s generally delivered well, from the perspectives of the three female protagonists.
Meg and Patricia are well-developed characters who face many challenges: Meg confronts marriage problems and a family tragedy. Patricia experiences the coup d’etat first hand and struggles to make difficult decisions about her future. Naomi’s story is less compelling. Nevertheless, as a native, she provides valuable contrast to Meg and Patricia’s lives.
Garzon’s rich description brings the settings alive. During Easter celebrations, for example, she describes the town’s alfombra decoration as “…a banquet for the senses. Spicy pine needles lay across the uneven brick pavement. Arranged on them were flower petals in geometric pattern—diamonds, circles, stripes. Meg thought she recognized yellow mums, pink carnations, and papery bougainvillea blooms in shades of red and purple. And were those pineapple slices? Yes, they must be.”
Infused with drama and description, Reading the Knots will appeal to fans of female-driven fiction, set against a backdrop of lesser known places and events.
Also available as an ebook.