(4 customer reviews)
Publication Date: Aug. 28, 2021
Categories: ContemporaryISBN: 9781913913267
Set in Guatemala in the mid-Eighties, during a very turbulent historical period, Livingston Unfound is the journey of a woman, Monica, travelling on her own, taking risks and facing dangers, choosing friends and lovers across cultural boundaries, and, above all, struggling to come to terms with the inevitable contradictions that come with being an affluent foreigner in a land of poverty and repression.
The journey she sets out on forces her to acknowledge her privilege, while she aspires to see the world with new eyes. As she strives to make close and intimate friends across class, race, and cultural differences, she is confronted by the conflicts that come with being a traveller far from home.
Mara Benetti has a degree in Latin American Studies from Essex University and an M.A. in Social Anthropology from Goldsmiths College. She started teaching languages – English, Italian and Spanish – over thirty years ago in a variety of institutions such as Westminster University, Goldsmiths College, Imperial College London, and UCL. Presently, she works at Imperial College and is the author of two language textbooks published by Palgrave and co-translated Woman at War by Dacia Maraini (from Italian into English). Her translation of Gospel according to Mary, a fiction novel by Barbara Alberti (Castelvecchi, 2007) is awaiting publication. She lives in South West London.
Helene Paschal (Guest Review) - 21 Sep, 2021
A nice book about ambivalence of feelings and choices. Monica is torn on whether she can forget her Italian origin, accept being a middle class educated woman in England or choose a country that lives up to her political ideals. It is an initiatic journey into her expectations and self awareness. Her mother's visit is the turning point of the story. Genuine, strong-willed and rational, she could lead Monica to her final decision. Very enjoyable !
Mike Phipps (Guest Review) - 11 Sep, 2021
I hugely enjoyed this novel. As we follow Monica on her travels through Guatemala, a well-conveyed sense of her insecurities and vulnerabilities engenders a deep sense of empaithy in the reader. As someone who lived in Central America in the 1980s, when the novel is set, I can say that each scene has a real authenticity. Nothing in the book came across as false or contrived. James Joyce said "Imagination is memory" but applying this to fiction writing is difficult, because one's remembered experiences do not correpsond to a linear plot development. The author admirably meets the challenge of situating an increasingly gripping plot line in a richly described, truthful setting.
The bulk of the novel is set on Guatemala's Atlantic Coast in the town of Livingston. Like the pace of life there, it's a slow revelation of layers of conflict beneath the apparently tranquil surface. The longer Monica stays, the more insight she gets into the social dynamics of the town and her place within it. The novel's pace and content here begin in a leisurely fashion, but as it goes along, it increasingly becomes a page turner, reaching a well-crafted and highly believable climax.
The descriptions of scenery are very evocative and the characterisations rounded. Interactions with other travellers and activists in the first part of the book capture something irrecoverably lost in today's neoliberal and individualistic times - a level of companionship and idealism, often naive and shallow, but seldom insincere. This novel has a confidence and maturity that rewards its readers. It dseserves to be widely read.
Chris Wall (Guest Review) - 16 Sep, 2021
I can't remember the last time I read a novel which I could not put down, and was sorry when it ended.
Mara Benetti gives us the sights, sounds, tastes, excitement and frustrations of living and travelling in Central America through Monica's experiences and feelings, especially around social class, perception of privilege and excitement from getting close to the local culture.
An absorbing tale, and really very well written.
Elizabeth Young (Guest Review) - 07 Sep, 2021
Anyone interested in a good read and a story filled with the joys of travel, its dangers, and its disappointments, will get much from this cautionary tale. We’re in Latin America where our protagonist, Monica, hopes to put her degree in Latin American studies to good use, and the pain of broken relationship behind her. She yearns to play her part in supporting the successful revolutions there, but doubts she has what it takes to weather the sacrifices such work demands. This is the time of covert US operations bent on reclaiming the region for corporate capitalism, but this ‘big picture’ is the backdrop to Monica’s more personal journey. It’s a journey that nonetheless speaks to the here and now: to the gap between rich and poor, to the inequality between races, to violence against women and the bonds of friendship and solidarity between them, not least between Monica and her mother whose arrival hastens events to their touching conclusion.
We meet Monica as the bus she’s travelling on is stopped by armed soldiers. She’s in Guatemala on a break from her job in Nicaragua teaching English to middle-class urbanites. ‘Where are the workers, the campesinos, the ones that laid down their lives for this revolution?’ she asks the young American volunteer, Martin, with whom she has a tender ‘on the road’ romance as they explore the Guatemalan highlands. Her time with Martin, and an encounter with a brave human rights worker inspire Monica to become a volunteer, but an ego-bruising interview has our protagonist questioning her motivations and good intentions.
After some agonising, Monica decides to follow her more hedonistic impulses as the prospect of a reggae concert takes her across the country to Livingston, a small coastal town settled by, among others, people of African-Caribbean descent – the Garifuna. It is here that the book and the quality of the writing step up a notch. We meet the many characters Monica encounters as she learns the ways of the Livingstonians. Her guides are the self-appointed and self-regarding Tomas, and the two Italian sisters, Mariangela and Giulia, whose kindness and generosity towards Monica are matched only by the financial support they offer the two local men they settle down with. Monica’s own brief liaison with a young local man quickly turns sour and threatening, and Tomas’s goading ‘advice’ to ‘stick to one man’, together with her own feelings of loneliness, leads Monica to couple up with Rafael, a handsome and volatile charmer. It is this relationship, and the characters of Rafael and his extended family, that dominate the book bringing it alive as it shifts between humour and pathos, each episode pulsating with the changing rhythms of Livingston’s tropical climate, and the reggae and soca sounds that first lured Monica there.