"There's something about Guatemala," Miranda Pope writes, "absolute beauty, and human warmth and dignity, along with poverty and trash, and the arduous, still-remaining vestiges of Guatemala's past." This is the setting of "Heart Of The Sky" ($15.99 in paperback from lulu.com), a land of contradictions against which a love story of contradictions plays itself out.
The author (aka Mira Talbott-Pope) writes me a quick note that she's been a "Chico/Cohasset resident for 30+ years and worked in social work and psychotherapy. Have been living in Guatemala for 3 years, currently at Lago Atitlan, volunteering in education. I have several projects (traditional murals, a preschool classroom) that I support there, and have given several benefits for same in Chico over the past number of years." The novel's central figure is really the country itself.
But there's a human story, too. Marilyn has come to Guatemala to volunteer in the schools; the trip was "a gift for her 50th birthday" from her son, something to pull "her out of the grieving period following her husband's sudden death." (She had divorced her first husband.) Marilyn falls in love with the place and, as a former therapist from California, finds her heart deeply moved by the needs of the poor and the continuing effects of the Guatemalan civil war; she laments the part played by U.S. intervention.
Then Marilyn meets Juan Carlos, muscular, perhaps in his mid-thirties, "a traditional Mayan farmer, yet knowledgeable about the outside world--a sensitive, thoughtful person. She senses the physical attraction she has felt all along expanding to something deeper. Embarrassed by the length of their gaze, her eyes drop."
The spark is kindled, and soon Marilyn is living with Juan Carlos and his family (his wife has left him) on his farm. Though the story weaves together the little joys of daily life and the affections of Juan Carlos, both Marilyn's feminism and Juan Carlos' traditionalism are constantly tested. "Certainly women have a right to enjoy sex and to have some say when it occurs," she tells her friend Natalie. "But I think there needs to be some balance between individuality and common goals."
Juan Carlos must open to a hidden past. And Marilyn? "Guatemala opened her heart."