The personal armoires popular in our ancestors’ time held important fragments of each family member’s life. “They were works of art,” writes Celeste A. Mansylla. “. . . Every armoire had its own smell according to the wood that had been used to make it and, with time, it acquired the scent of the person who used it.” Mansylla employs this imagery in a lyrical telling of her family’s joys, tragedies, wealth, adventures, loves and losses. The details were culled from the “open family secrets” her grandparents, aunt and mother shared, and are embellished by the author’s added dialogue and characters.
The book opens on the matriarchal side, great-grandparents from Germany voyaging in the early 1800s to Guatemala with plans to settle and cultivate coffee. Before the ship arrives, half the passengers and crew contract yellow fever and die, including two from Mansylla’s family. Yet the others carry on, eventually living in opulence, and gaining widespread respect despite personal tragedies, a well-hidden rape and pregnancy, and infidelities. Meanwhile, the paternal family tree, dating to 1700s Spain, includes a notorious pirate, a great musician, a horrible ice factory accident, a poisoning and a family that whittles away the large fortune their great-grandparents had acquired.
This rich, complex family history is well researched and entertaining, incorporating nice black-and-white photos of the ancestors, as well as family trees to help the reader follow along. Mansylla writes with sincerity and compassion, resulting in a highly readable work and a unique insider’s look at Guatemala.
Also available in paperback and ebook.