Monday, October 24, 2011

Of A Journey Ending In Guatemala

I never wanted to read Patricia Henley's first novel- 'Hummingbird House' because I wasn't ready to deal with the austere content that's a world away from the fantasy I love. These dreary topics were read at school and there wasn't a need to repeat it outside of the classroom. Plus it's a lot like the self-discovery shite that is Elizabeth Gilbert's 'Eat, Pray, Love' (I hate the book, and especially the movie), except in a different setting.

I finally picked it up for an afternoon. The political and military atrocities in the book's setting of Nicaragua and Guatemala call to me. The poverty of the region is absolutely depressing. Patricia Henley lends credence to her content by having spent 5 months in Central America while writing this book in the 1980s when Guatemala was still embroiled in a civil war.

Protagonist Kate Banner is an American midwife who goes to Mexico for a vacation and ends up staying in the area for years, traveling through Nicaragua and Guatemala. She puts her midwifery skills to good use and providing what meagre medical help she can for the people. It's a journey of self-discovery, experiencing the turmoil of war first hand, meeting activists, and finally, met a like-minded kindred soul in conflicted priest Father Dixie Ryan, they open Hummingbird House, a clinic and school for Guatemalan children.

"Sometime early the next morning, before daylight, Marta left Kate's bed. She and Eduardo stole out of the house as everyone slept. From the kitchen counter they took a cupful of coins - the kitty for Cokes and eggs and other odds and ends. Like a trickle, Marta and Eduardo joined the river of orphan children flowing down to Guatemala City from the homeland of the Maya."

I feel that it's rather romanticized. It's not quite my cup of tea even though it isn't a happily-after sort of story. Beyond political themes, the book touches a bit on the healthcare system in Central America. The topics and themes Patricia Henley have chosen are wide ranging and bleak. In her writing, she alternates between third person narrative and first person. It's rather disconcerting. The gem is in the vision of the book, not so much of the writing per se. There's no discernible commentary save for what you see through the characters' experiences in the story. It's a little disjointed. At the end of it, I feel as though Kate has achieved nothing, beyond self actualization and in a way, enlightenment. It's too much about her. It's like a murky whirlpool that has no salvation. No one can help. What the author has done, is to present the grim reality of the region to the readers, and that's that.

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