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tiquicia and how it got that way
on September 22, 2008
Rarely does an anthology of original documents of historical value mingled with insightful interpretative essays come together as a coherent work. Steven Palmer and Iván Molina, against those odds, have put the ball in the back of the net with just such a book.
THE COSTA RICA READER'S three-part subtitle (`History, Culture, Politics') is honored along the way with an even touch. Everyone with an interest in Costa Rica as more than a tourist destination with great beaches will find between the covers of this recent collection the stuff that builds insight and understanding. This reviewer lived for sixteen years in 'tiquicia', together with its four million 'ticos', 'nicas', and assorted hangers-on. The West Virginia-sized patch of mountainous land with its sought-after beaches (I rarely found time to visit them) continues to maintain its grip on my soul. I wish this 2004 Duke University Press publication had been available about 1988. It would have rendered easier learning the lessons of tiquicia that had to come the hard, honest way.
No matter, it's here now. The editors guide us through a nuanced qualification of `Costa Rican exceptionalism', finding in the tico experience--whether lived by the indigenous groups who were not quite so few and compliant as the national mythology suggests in the face of conquest and marginalization or by the 19th century coffee lords with their debt to German mercantilism or the 1980s Nicaraguan refugee whose task it is to decide with which of her divergent constituencies to identify herself--deep continuities with the rest of Latin American experience as well as a dollop of the country's celebrated idiosyncrasies.
The seventy-odd pieces are brief, illuminating, and usually excerpted from something larger. Individually and as a collection, they leave the reader wanting more.
Which is not unlike Costa Rica itself in the experience of many sojourners there, many of whom will never go back but who at the same time never manage entirely to leave.
Read by this reviewer on a recent working week back in the land it so effectively describes, THE COSTA RICA READER would be highly recommended at twice the price.