Winner of the 1998 Iowa Short Fiction award, this remarkable debut collection chronicles life in the impoverished Guatemalan towns of Santa Cruz and nearby Coban. The physical distance these 10 stories cover is short, but the geography of human spirit it traverses is vast. In "Gemelas," a young woman reacts with a mixture of happiness and jealousy at the prospect of her twin sister's marriage to a wealthy landowner; it is her fate to follow her sister down a tragic path. A father, his daughter and a young woman grapple with fear of abandonment and aloneness in "How They Healed." A young boy experiences the erotic thrill of mystery when he is seduced by his employer, whose face he never sees, in "Bathwater." Pervading each tale is ex-Peace Corps volunteer Brazaitis's understanding of the intricate social stratifications of his characters' rural community. Adopting the conventions of folktales in sophisticated ways, Brazaitis controls his narratives with sparse dialogue and omniscient or calmly retrospective narrators. His admirable restraint anchors the stories and connects them by a tight chain of motifs, while his lucid prose directs attention away from itself and toward the characters who provide their color and drama.
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"Brazaitis has written a powerful collection about displacement, disappointment, and corruption but also about courage, humor, playfulness, and persistent hope. His stories of marginalized Guatemalans are by turn charming, unsettling, and moving-and they are told in language that sings." -- Elizabeth Graver, author of Unravelling
"I was thoroughly and magically transported by The River of Lost Voices. These are tender, beautiful, touching stories about a Guatemala that is at once strange and universal. This is a remarkable collection from a new writer with a major talent." -- Robert Olen Butler, author of A Good Scent from Strange Mountain
"The stories in The River of Lost Voices are unied not only by their vividly rendered Guatemalan settings but by the pervasive sense of folktale that is evident in both the magic of their imagery and the pleasing unpredictability of their forms." -- Stuart Dybek, author of Childhood and Other Neighbors and 1998 Iowa Short Fiction Award judge
"These stories display Mark Brazaitis' uncanny ability to offer up one surprise after another with such authority that the strangest turns of plot soon seem as natural as wind or rain. The stories draw their energy from the fault lines of Guatemalan society, especially the internal divide between Spanish-speaking ladinos and Mayan ind'genas (who are themselves divided, speaking many dialects). Whether the subject is a Mayan detective falling in love, an illiterate plantation owner 'reading' books without words, or a missionary whose sermons get 'translated' into local myth, Brazaitis maps this complex territory with an astoundingly sure eye and a finely modulated style. What a fine new talent has appeared among us!" -- Lewis Hyde, author of Trickster Makes This World
"When you finish these wonderful stories about life in a small Guatemalan town, you might feel as if they were a dream you just had. Funny, strange, sad, and exquisite things happened, and there were so many marvelous and perturbing details that you can't get them out of your head; their mood takes you over like the afternoon rains." -- Francisco Goldman, author of The Long Night of the White Chickens
This is an extraordinary look at what may seem like an ordinary town. The stories here vary from the horrific ("Jose Del Rio") to the mournful ("The Whale") to... Read morePublished on August 19, 1999
Although, I enjoyed some of the short stories, and they provided some insight on situation faced by the people of Guatemala, I was disappointed in this book for 2 reasons. Read morePublished on January 31, 1999