A turbulent family drama enfolded in a nation’s story.
“Words are the weight that hold our histories in place,” writes Kephart (A Slant of Sun, 1998, etc.), explaining her decision to record the history of her husband's childhood home, a mountainside coffee farm in El Salvador. She brings alive a farm, a town, and a country as seen through her own eyes and from “inside the church of another's memories.” Out of her refined prose, never straining for affect, yet soulful and challenging, emerges a personal El Salvador of Maya, ancient tribes, and myth, of ferocious endless oppression, “a witch named Siguanaba and butterflies large as kittens,” cocoa, indigo, coffee, reforms, unions, death squads, guerrillas, and a dozen families owning it all, of “the early nightfalls, the stunning daybreaks, the music of so many birds yet in the trees.” Kephart wants to paint herself into this landscape; she concludes that can best be achieved by entering first into her husband’s family history and then getting to know those who live there today. Most important is the grandfather, Carlos Alberto Bondanza, the landscape's inventor; the author celebrates his feat of not living at the expense of others, retells the stories of his dangerous, romantic youth, his taste for democracy that ran afoul of a bad government, his love of his farm and extended family, his legacy of decency when that was not a popular trait among the landowners. She also describes the peasants who work the land, journeys about the countryside, and a horrible series of quakes and slides. Kephart delivers these impressions unembellished, for they stand on their own.
Particularly notable for the sinewy authorial voice, susceptible yet also dauntless and alert, conveying powerful insights with a strong eye for detail and color and a sure sense of what is important at a particular time and place. (19 b&w photos)