“In Guatemala, however, catastrophes were not cozy and did not bring out the best in anyone. In Guatemala, roads were not just impassable in bad weather but could completely slide down a mountainside, burying entire towns alive. No sleigh could glide over the sucking, killing mud of the rainy season. When catastrophes happened here, the Indians believed the earth was angry, and the only way to appease the earth was to feed her more bodies.”
She’s your neighbor. And despite her wild beauty, she’s so under the radar that 99.9 percent of Richmonders couldn’t pick her out of a police lineup. The same is likely true of Guatemala, the subject of Kelly Kerney’s latest book. "Hard Red Spring" (Viking) is a historical fiction about an exotic and tortured neighbor that many Americans couldn’t find on a map. Countless tourists to Cancun and Belize have been within a long bus ride of Guatemala, but it turns out there’s a reason why you’ve likely never considered a vacation there. Actually, Kerney’s written 437 pages of reasons. Whether you’re the type who is afterward more inclined or less inclined to visit Guatemala – and why – is a good litmus test of whether this exquisitely textured tetralogy is for you.
“In the distance the market loomed pale and empty in the moonlight, the cobblestone expanse looking like the back of a great, sleeping reptilian beast. Shadows collapsed in corners, looking vaguely human, vaguely dead. Jean thought she saw the cobblestones rise and fall, breathing.”
"Hard Red Spring" is a novel in four parts – 1902, 1954, 1983, 1999 – that weaves a meticulous narrative across four stories with threads interwoven among Kerney’s finely hewn women. In 1902, a young girl watches her family’s livelihood destroyed by corrupt officials and inscrutable natives. In 1954, the wife of the American ambassador becomes trapped in the intrigue of a Cold War love affair. In 1983, an evangelical missionary discovers that The Good News may not be good news at all to the Mayan refugees she hopes to save. And in 1999, the mother of an adopted Mayan daughter embarks on a Roots Tour only to find that the history she seeks is not safely in the past.
I’m fortunate enough to know Kerney, and I can say that this book is much like her. You could go through life knowing nothing about Guatemala and still live a full life. But put the work into "Hard Red Spring" – or Kerney – and your reward is a profound shift in how you see a neighbor that you perhaps never knew existed.
“You really love me that much?”
“Yes,” Jean answered, for this was the greatest truth she could offer. For the first time in a long time, happiness touched her. An untuned string within her plucked, reverberating. How unexpected, how encompassing, how close to disappointment it felt.
Intrigued? Come to the Kelly Kerney Book & Bread Party and meet the author at Sub Rosa Bakery on Saturday, Aug. 13, from noon to 1 p.m. Fountain Bookstore will sell hardcover books and Sub Rosa will provide complimentary mini-loaves of bread made from organic hard red spring wheat. Each loaf will be emblazoned with the MacGuffin bird of "Hard Red Spring," a long-tailed quetzal that is indigenous to Guatemala.