In This Review

The Blood of Guatemala: A History of Race and Nation
The Blood of Guatemala: A History of Race and Nation
By Greg Grandin
Duke University Press, 2000, 336 pp

A remarkable tour de force. It is one of the glories of American democracy that North Carolina is home to both Jesse Helms and the Duke University Press. This book describes a Latin America about as far away from the senator's conception of the place as can be imagined. Grandin, who worked with the Guatemalan Truth Commission in 1997-98, displays a powerful narrative style -- touching on nationalism, state power, class and caste divisions, ethnic identity, and political violence -- that remains free of heavy postmodern obfuscation. By examining the tortured historical relationship among the Mayan power brokers in the city of Quetzaltenango, the ladinos (non-Indians) who dominated the national government, and the poor indigenous campesinos, he brilliantly dissects how the Mayans defined their own national identity within the Guatemalan state. Under pressure from Cold War politics and peasant mobilization, the local Mayan elites' mediating role eventually broke down. In turn, this contributed to the viciousness of Guatemala's long civil war -- when the Guatemalan state killed more than 200,000 of its own citizens -- and ultimately provoked a powerful Mayan cultural and political resurgence. In its failure to devise an inclusive national identity and find effective mediators between the ladino oligarchy and the ostracized indigenous populations, Grandin writes, Guatemala's U.S.-backed military was able to launch a wave of repression against Mayans so severe that the Truth Commission termed it genocide.