A Beauty That Hurts: Life and Death in Guatemala. Rev. ed.


191 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography
ISBN 1-896357-38-5
DDC 972.8105'2





Reviewed by John Walker

John Walker is a professor of Spanish at Queen’s University.


For at least three decades, Guatemala has endured civil war,
assassinations, and state-sponsored terrorism. One of the most
perceptive and sympathetic witnesses to these tragedies has been the
cultural geographer and political analyst, George Lovell.

First published in 1995, A Beauty That Hurts has been revised and
expanded to include recent history. One of Lovell’s strengths is his
ability not only to write for an academic audience (his published
research in the colonial field of Guatemalan geography is prize-winning
and internationally acclaimed), but also to produce first-rate
journalism. Combining the best of his journalism and scholarly research,
A Beauty That Hurts captures both the socio-politico-economic reality
and the spirit of the Guatemalan people (especially the exploited and
marginalized Maya).

The volume is divided into three parts. Part 1, “Struggle and
Survival,” presents vignettes of figures who suffered under the
military/guerrillero conflict (e.g., young Genaro and old Doсa
Magdalena, Nobel activist Rigoberta Menchъ, writer Vнctor Montejo, and
filmmaker Mary Ellen Davis). Part 2, “Blood and Ink,” analyzes the
atrocities of the 1980s and 1990s (human-rights abuses, murders,
disappearances) that were orchestrated by the military with the
connivance of a series of military and civilian presidents in towns and
villages frequented by Lovell over the last three decades. Part 3,
“Spaniards, Ladinos, and the Enduring Maya,” reveals the other side
of Lovell’s work—the archival research and field investigation that
are the basis of his scholarly writings. There are individual chapters
on the colonial period, the 19th-century post-independence period, and
the U.S./United Fruit machinations of the 1940s and 1950s that brought
about the overthrow of the legitimately elected government of President

A timely new epilogue discusses the importance of the land (reform) and
the murder of human-rights activist Bishop Gerardi. A valuable
bibliographical essay (on sources and commentary), provides a fitting
conclusion to this fascinating study of the terrible beauty that is


Lovell, W. George., “A Beauty That Hurts: Life and Death in Guatemala. Rev. ed.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/7682.