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When A Woman Rises

Library Journal
"Eber writers compellingly, and fans of contemporary fiction investigating conflicts between traditional and modern mores, men and women, and political factions should enjoy this one."
Veronica, a young Maya woman in Chiapas, Mexico, has persuaded her mother, Magdalena, to participate in an oral history project by recording stories of her life, in particular, those memories of her now-missing best friend, Lucia. Magdalena recounts their childhood days of deficiency and hardship, marked by substandard education and prejudice against her indigenous community. While Magdalena chooses an early marriage and motherhood, the expected path for women in their fictional town of Lokan, Lucia becomes a skilled and respected healer. Lucia’s attraction to the kind Madre Ester, a local nun, confuses and isolates her, and she turns to alcohol. The women become involved with the Zapatista political movement and learn about community organizing, cooperative economic efforts, and political resistance. When poverty drives Lucia to look for work away from Lokan, Magdalena’s premonition of great harm befalling her friend threatens to become reality. Anthropologist Eber has done extensive fieldwork among the Maya in Chiapas and has written extensively about the area and its people (e.g., 2011’s The Journey of a Tzotzil-Maya Woman of Chiapas, Mexico: Pass Well over the Earth). Presenting her years of findings and impressions in this fictionalized form is a powerful way to bring the lives of these women to light.

Verdict: Eber writers compellingly, and fans of contemporary fiction investigating conflicts between traditional and modern mores, men and women, and political factions should enjoy this one.
- Faye Chadwell, Oregon State Univ., Corvallis, July 12, 2018  Visit Website
School Library Journal 1 Stars
"This is a wonderfully written coming-of-age novel with a great balance of anecdotes about the Chiapas culture and a central driving narrative about tragedy and the lives of women bound by culture and expectations."
In Chiapas, Mexico, tradition lays the fabric of the land; for women, it can become a chain binding them to their culture but also preventing them from accomplishing goals. Magdalena wanted more when she was younger, but she had to put her dreams of becoming a teacher aside to meet community and family expectations. Time has gone by, and now her daughter is participating in a program to record her community's stories. Magdalena is reluctant to take part at first—she doesn't want to recall Lucia, her childhood best friend, and the decisions that led to her disappearance. This simple novel contains powerful imagery as Eber paints the landscape of Chiapas and the plights of its people. This story will transport readers and break their hearts as they learn Lucia's fate and Magdalena's struggle to live. VERDICT This is a wonderfully written coming-of-age novel with a great balance of anecdotes about the Chiapas culture and a central driving narrative about tragedy and the lives of women bound by culture and expectations. —Katie Llera, Brunner Elementary School, Scotch Plains, NJ
- September 1, 2018  Visit Website
World Literature Today Magazine
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.
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, January 3, 2019  Visit Website
Thrums Books
"When a Woman Rises is set in the Maya township of Chenalhó, Chiapas, a place Christine depicts beautifully and with clear understanding...As Magdalena tells the story of Lucia, their friendship and their struggles, a larger narrative unfolds gradually revealing the complex lives and culture of Chiapas. Through the voice of Magdalena, we hear about the community’s painful history, the rise of the Zapatistas, alcoholism, the fusion of Maya beliefs with Catholicism, and so much more."
I first met Christine Eber at the Weave A Real Peace (WARP) annual meeting in 2016. Her moving keynote address about her work with the Maya Women in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, made me an instant admirer. As an anthropologist, Christine began eighteen months of field work in Chenalhó, Chiapas, in 1987, work that continues today. She’s dedicated herself to supporting Maya women, their families, and their communities. She’s helped start a weaving center, and with a group of American friends, also started Weaving for Justice, which is a nonprofit that helps women’s weaving cooperatives in Chiapas sell their work through fair trade channels. Weaving for Justice also find support in the U.S. to meet the needs of weavers’ families and communities.

Christine has already published two important books related to her work in Chiapas: The Journey of a Tzotzil-Maya Woman of Chiapas, Mexico and Women and Alcohol in a Highland Maya Town, so when I learned that she’d written a novel, When a Woman Rises, I imagined it would be terrific.

When a Woman Rises is set in the Maya township of Chenalhó, Chiapas, a place Christine depicts beautifully and with clear understanding. The novel centers around Veronica, a teenage girl who is working for an organization to record the life stories of local women. Veronica persuades her mother, Magdalena, to tell the story of her childhood friend Lucia who has been absent from the community for many years.

It’s a deceptively simple plot. As Magdalena tells the story of Lucia, their friendship and their struggles, a larger narrative unfolds gradually revealing the complex lives and culture of Chiapas. Through the voice of Magdalena, we hear about the community’s painful history, the rise of the Zapatistas, alcoholism, the fusion of Maya beliefs with Catholicism, and so much more.

Of course, a book about the people of Chiapas has to include textiles and indeed, the cultural value of weaving and embroidery is evident throughout. At one point, Magdalena describes to her daughter the parts of a huipil: “The middle piece is called ‘its mother’ and the side pieces are called ‘its arms.’ It’s a living thing, you know. When a Maya woman wears it, she stands in the center of the universe where the ancient ceiba tree stood. There she has power to speak to the saints, God, and all the spiritual beings on behalf of our people.”


When a Woman Rises is also a testament to the power of story—to teach, to heal, to celebrate. These stories, as Christine Eber renders them, have the power to transform the lives of those who tell them and those who receive them, small gifts of promise.
- Karen Brock, February 2, 2019  Visit Website

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