Caminar by Skila Brown (Walker Books)
HC RRP $ 24.95
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis
This stunning verse novel is Skila Brown’s conduit for the real life events of the era beginning in 1954 when the first democratically elected government of Guatemala was overthrown. The Guatemalan Civil War raged between 1960 and 1996. It left more than 200,000 people killed or never heard of again. This book is dedicated to their memory.
The setting begins in Chopan, Guatemala, 1981. When the soldiers arrive, they encourage the hungry villagers to betray the ‘communists’ for money. The word communist is unknown there. But they reinforced their message in their language, by hanging a man with the word communist a necklace around his neck.
Carlos is a boy forced to become a man to survive because work made a boy ‘step away from child, and step into Man.’ Later the villages are razed to the ground and people are slaughtered like sheep. On the day his cousin is born, Carlos’ mother sends him into the jungle to pick mushrooms. ‘I could not see the village. And it could not see me.’ He follows his mother’s orders to set out for the mountains if the soldiers come and ‘in the woods, eyes closed, ears open’ he listens to the slaughter and death behind him as he hides in trees like a monkey. We accompany his travels and fears, his growth and his mourning.
This verse novel is poetic and powerful, heartbreaking and mournful, but stops a breath away from being desolate. The author has used the power of the elements, emotive language and metaphor to portray all that we see, hear and almost smell. The plants, streams and forests must surely be as familiar to her as breathing for they appeared as strong visual scenes before me throughout the book. This is a feast of language of the highest quality; a work of incredible depth.