When a Woman Rises by Christine Eber

The cover to When a Woman Rises by Christine EberEl Paso, Texas. Cinco Puntos Press. 2018. 208 pages.

Weaving together the voices of Lucia and Magdalena, two Maya women friends, Christine Eber, like the backstrap-loom weavers in the novel, exquisitely crafts a complex and compassionate picture of the lives of Maya people in the highland of Chiapas. Readers will be moved by the daunting challenges these women face and the dramatic twists and turns their stories take. Magdalena chooses a traditional path; Lucia, a frightening, uncharted one. All along, the struggle to survive while remaining faithful to their ancestors’ teachings hovers in the background.  

In their choices, Magdalena and Lucia come up against the traditional gender system that keeps women from advancing: a girl can’t pursue higher education; she can’t meet with and talk with her future husband before he comes to petition her parents to marry her. Parents don’t always respect their daughters’ wishes. As adults, excessive family responsibilities prevent women from taking on leadership roles. The reader turns pages to learn whether the two women will be able to work toward a new gender consciousness.

The novel poignantly reflects the grinding reality of these people’s extreme poverty: families only own tiny pieces of land; the men are forced to work far away for months. Meanwhile, women stay behind to care for their children, home, cornfields, and animals—a hardship in itself. But there is so much more they must deal with in their desperate search for alternatives to counter poverty.  

A salient thread throughout the story is their culture’s quest for respectful interaction among people and between people and their deities, both ancestral and Christian—essential to maintaining balance in a community acutely vulnerable to outer pressures and inner conflicts. Christine Eber has written a striking novel that reflects these challenges as well as underscoring the wisdom of Maya culture, which has allowed its people to survive thousands of years under difficult conditions. Her compelling narrative not only shows why these people deserve our respect but moves the reader greatly.

Brenda Rosenbaum
Mayan Hands Foundation

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