- Recovering Lost Footprints, Volume 1: Contemporary Maya Narratives by Arturo Arias
ARTURO ARIAS'S Recovering Lost Footprints, Volume 1: Contemporary Maya Narratives is the first of three volumes focusing on Indigenous narrative, specifically novel, short story, and testimonio, from the mid-twentieth century to the present in Abya Yala (the Kuna name for Land in Its Full Maturity, used to refer to the Americas). Arias's study of Maya literature is important given that we find ourselves before an emerging field. One of the study's most valuable contributions lies in its thorough contextualization of the works and their authors in Guatemala, particularly as they pertain to a thirty-six-year-long civil war. Arias's decolonial stance is also notable because it reflects recent developments in Indigenous studies that seek to decenter Western thought and to privilege the voices of Indigenous peoples above all. This is no easy task, but it is one that other critics similarly face, given that we continue employing defined categories of literary inquiry to understand the work of Maya authors that in many cases challenges or simply refuses to play by the rules established by the Western academy.
In the introduction, Arias offers a discussion of issues that will prove useful to those unfamiliar with the field, starting with the development of Latin American studies and, later, Indigenous studies; delving into what it means to work within a decolonial framework, including the use of concepts such as Abya Yala or Iximuleu to talk about Guatemala in the latter case; and, lastly, defining a Maya literature. Chapter 1 then traces the emergence of a Maya literature in Iximuleu, highlighting the major players, the sociopolitical landscape, and issues of language. Chapter 2 takes on the work of Luis de Lión, whom Arias considers a pioneer of decolonial Maya literature and whose short stories and novel showcase a "racialized subalternity" that is deployed to rearticulate Maya subjectivities and generate agency (87–88).
Chapter 3 looks at "manifest affect and grieving" in Gaspar Pedro González's work "as calls to knowledge and as the means to grapple with the brutal racism and genocide experienced by Iximuleu's Mayas during the last three decades of the twentieth century" (131). The author's discussion [End Page 165] of translation issues is interesting and gives us much to think about, particularly as we are confronted with languages in which, in many cases, we lack fluency. Finally, chapter 4 looks at Victor Montejo's work, focusing on narrative, though Arias also includes a narrative poem, El Q'anil: Man of Lightning, which was first published in English in 1982 in Pittsboro, North Carolina. Curiously, he labels El Q'anil a novella, though Montejo himself calls it an "epic poem of the Jalkaltek people" (Víctor Montejo, El Q'anil: Man of Lightning [Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2001], xxviii–xxix). Arias's approach reveals what he labels a "Maya ethics" that is sustained through its own cosmovision (182). In this section, Arias's analysis of Brevísima relación testimonial de la destrucción del Mayab' is noteworthy as he deftly shows Montejo's testing and rewriting of the testimonio genre.
Overall, this study of major Maya narrative from Guatemala comes at an important time, when the field is expanding and other contributions are not far off. In 2019 we can expect to see Arias's Recovering Lost Footprints, Volume 2; Gloria Chacón's Indigenous Cosmolectics: Kab'awil and the Making of Maya and Zapotec Literatures; the critical collection Indigenous Interfaces: Spaces, Technology, and Social Networks in Mexico and Central America, edited by Jennifer Gomez and Gloria Chacón; and Paul Worley and Rita Palacios's Unwriting Maya Literature: Ts'íib as Recorded Knowledge. Perhaps the study's only limitation lies in the scope itself: though Arias is quite clear in what he sets out to do, when he restricts Recovering Lost Footprints to the study of narrative, he leaves out poetry, the one area in which Maya authors, particularly women, are most active. In...