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Maya Roads: One Woman's Journey Among the People of the Rainforest Paperback – August 1, 2011

4.7 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Every once in a while I stumble upon a book that is so beautifully written and infused with so much intelligence and heart that it leaves an indelible mark on me. Mary Jo McConahay's Maya Roads is such a book. In its hungry passion and wide-eyed wonder, it's an extraordinary literary journey and a moving testament to a region and a life." —Don George, National Geographic Traveler, August 2011 Book of the Month


"A layered examination of a place and a people whose ancient culture is rapidly disappearing." —Kirkus


"From the moment Mary Jo McConahay steps into the deep Mexican jungle, you will follow her anywhere. In this extraordinary travel memoir, McConahay journeys through beauty, history, disappearing cultures, and revolution. . . . Her courage, keen observation, and open heart make her an unparalleled guide to this gorgeous, mysterious, sacred, and sometimes terrifying corner of the planet." 
Laura Fraser, author, An Italian Affair and All Over the Map


“Powerful, descriptive, spiritual and lush.”  —June Carolyn Erlick, editor in chief, Re:Vista: Harvard Review of Latin America, and author, A Gringa in Bogotá: Living Colombia’s Invisible War


"I can't imagine a better book to help us understand the power of the rainforest and of the Mayan cities, the way violence and majesty permeate both. . . . All that [McConahay has] seen in thirty years of covering death informs the deliciously melancholy view of life that infuses the book.  This is a superb book—thoughtful and reflective."  —Jim Handy, author, Gift of the Devil: A History of Guatemala and Revolution in the Countryside: Rural Conflict and Agrarian Reform in Guatemala


"What you hold in your hands is a gift of rare courage and insight. McConahay rips off the layers of a little-known world, exposing to us its hypnotic beauty--and violence--through her own experience. The author’s familiarity with the region and its people enables her to do what no one else before has done, setting incidents of the current crisis against centuries-old wisdom." —Jean Molesky-Poz, author of Contemporary Maya Spirituality


"Brilliant. Maya Roads takes the reader on an intense journey deep into tropical forest landscapes, described so eloquently one can feel the sweaty climate, see the birds wrapped in the indigenous women’s braids, and experience the stress as witnesses and survivors recount stories of repression and resistance. [It] combines the prose of a skilled journalist with the in-depth knowledge of a long time observer of the Maya peoples."  —Amy Ross, associate professor, Department of Geography, University of Georgia



"Mary Jo McConahay guides the reader of Maya Roads from enchanted jungles at the center of the Americas all the way to military roadblocks and nightmare massacres. Her own progress—from wide-eyed newcomer, wary of spiders and snakes, to world-experienced journalist familiar with the unblinking look of death--makes her the best sort of guide. She is innocence and experience; discoverer and knowing witness. The Maya believe we are nearing an end time; I cannot imagine a better chronicler of this time and place than McConahay.”  —Richard Rodriguez, PBS NewsHour, and author, Hunger of Memory: The Education of Richard Rodriguez and Brown: The Last Discovery of America

About the Author

Journalist Mary Jo McConahay began covering Central America as a war correspondent in the 1980s and lived in Guatemala for eleven years. Her work has appeared in Vogue, Rolling Stone, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Time and is included in several anthologies.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press (August 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1569765480
  • ISBN-13: 978-1569765487
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #351,361 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By mackenzie jones on July 24, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Wow! Beautifully told, objectively covered, by author, journalist and adventurer far ahead of her time. An early fascination with Central America, and all things Maya, had this woman risking her life while I was changing diapers. She skillfully weaves the story of the ancient Maya with the more current atrocities amid the Lacandon people and the rainforest. Placing herself in these dangerous situations allows McConahay to bring the story to life. I lived through these times, knew about the wars, later about the "Disappeared". I was aware of some US involvement. Still, I feel as though I just had a one semester course, given by a favorite teacher, on a subject I had no idea I'd find interesting. I am humbled. This will be my Christmas gift for 2012.
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Format: Paperback
I loved this book. The author is a journalist who has spent years covering Central America. This is her memoir of her travels in the Maya Rainforests in Guatemala and Mexico. Her writing is beautiful and evocative, but it is primarily the hearbreaking story of the peoples of the forest, descendents of the ancient Maya, and how they have been brutalized by the modern world. McConohay is passionately political and stands in solidarity with these people.
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I have never written a review here but I have never read a book like Maya Roads. It took me along with the author through the Central American jungle, noticing the smallest flower or the sound of jaguars, but also gave eyewitness descriptions of some of the most important historical scenes in the last 30 years, including war and the aftermath of massacres. I had no idea the place, a continuous rainforest which is half in Chiapas, Mexico, and half in Guatemala, was so rich and so close; you don't have to go all the way to the Amazon to find the jungle. The author describes the ancient rainforest cities, and explains the spiritual life of the Maya, the calendar, and their symbols. She spends time with the Lacandon, who live in deep jungle and were never conquered and still dress in white gowns, men and women, direct descendants (some people believe) of the original Maya. You can see the author is in love with the place, and holds its modern-day Maya people in high respect, but she is not blind to drug running and corruption happening now. Some characters are unforgettable: a quirky archaeologist who is also a kind of visionary; a sad Maya priest whose language is about to disappear; a middle-age former Zapatista guerrilla who is just learning to read. The writing is very beautiful. I feel like I've just come back from a real world, but about as far away as you can get from my ordinary life.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I went along with a neighbor to hear this woman at the World Affairs Council and
she was mesmerizing. I bought the book and I'm reading it and I see why I felt
swept along. She writes about war, Maya temples, archaeological sites, hidden lakes
and animals, all in the same flowing and fascinating voice, honest and really curious
about whatever she sees. She is very knowledgeable. It feels like I'm with her in
these experiences and I wish the trip could be longer. I'll probably get this book for
a couple of friends.
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Format: Paperback
For starters, this is a most beautiful book--with its glorious cover photo and the illustrations of traditional Maya icons that preface each chapter. It's so rare to have pictures in adult books! But a book is the words, and how marvelously Mary Jo McConahay knits them together. Some of her images I will not forget--e.g. "at the nape of the neck, where the hair was gathered, each woman wore a clutch of dead birds. Those birds just hung there form the knots where the long, black hair had been pulled together, lushly colored dead birds that must have been somehow magically preserved, whose wearing marked the women as natural members of the forest, yet its conquerors, too, a race of queens."

Reading this travel memoir allowed me to enter strange places where I might not have the courage to go; it helped me to understand the politics that have made life so precarious for the Maya; it made me aware of the great beauty of creation. Pity and terror--that's what the ancients thought made for tragedy. There's plenty of both in this book. In these alluring and forbidding Maya Roads, McConahay is a trustworthy guide. And the book is "a page turner" to boot.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The author takes you to the Mayan jungle – the scents, the sounds, the people, their culture, all richly described. And brings to light the horrific brutality and repression the people have suffered in recent decades (centuries?) and sadly, the perhaps inexorable decline of their culture.

Not as much on Mayan history as I’d hoped, but does illuminate the ‘rediscovery’ of the Mayan cities and the dangerous environment of central America (drug lords, dictators, repressive military, massacres – not much joy there).
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Maya Roads demonstrates its author's great love for Central America's rain forest and deep concern for the land and its people. It brings the locale to life, interweaves history and archaeology and brings us up to date with current issues. The writing is clear and journalistic in style but with enough poetry to see the geography through eyes that took it in and loved it from youth to elder years, returning and remembering its conflicts and hardships.

I am about the same age as the author and loved the rain forest of Sarawak, Malaysia from my Peace Corps years from 1966-1969. I too returned and was struck by the loss of the trees and forest habitat owing to the sale of the timber and political corruption. This similarity of experience made Maya Roads especially meaningful to me, but the insights should bring the Central American rain forest and its people, history and culture to life for many readers. It's a good read and not a stodgy labor.
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