New Costa Rica History Book Rounds Up Smorgasbord of Voices

June 3, 2005

“THE CostaRica Reader,”with its deceptiveelementarytitle, is a poignantresource foranyone with aneye on the country,whether traveler,grizzledCosta Rica old timer,flash-in the-pan tourist,historian orCosta Ricannational.The book is achronologicallyordered collageof more than 50 documents that flesh outand enliven the country’s history, cultureand politics. They are compiled from animprobable array of often obscuresources: newspaper clippings, a mid-18thcentury slave’s legal petition for freedom,memoirs, an early coffee cooperative’sprospectus, poems, essays, the historicalroots of rural legends about rags-to-richesGuanacaste rancher Francisco Cubillo,and glimpses of the social turmoil of thelast half of the 20th century from the pensof everyone from presidents to accusedcommunists.Most of the pieces are written byCosta Ricans; many of them are translatedinto English for the first time in this book.The authors run the gamut in age, sex,race and status; they are farmers, activists,professors, soldiers, politicians, children,persuasive working-class yarn spinnersfrom San José’s penniless barrios,Nicaraguan immigrants forging fake doublelives as Costa Ricans, factory workers,indigenous people embroiled in the ubiquitousstruggle to retain their culture,English-speaking blacks from theCaribbean coast and others.The work traces the country’s historyfrom the scantily documented days beforethe arrival of the Spanish, through the riseof the coffee plantations and the Civil Warof 1948, to the political upheaval of globalizationinto the 21st century.Venturing beyond the limitations of astraight history, the book argues a pointof view. It plops the starry-eyed ideologicalconception of Costa Rica as an oasisof peace and economic even-handednessamong the blood and turbulence of itsLatin American neighbors down where itbelongs: among the culture, economyand government of its Latin Americanneighbors.It defies the conventional wisdom thatCosta Rica is a mold-breaking LatinAmerican nation, defining the country asanother piece of the Latin American puzzle– a position that supplants ideas thatthe violence and corruption plaguing theregion are irremediable, and Costa Rica isjust an anomaly.Supplementing the written word aremore than 40 images including photographs,maps, cartoons and fliers.“The Costa Rica Reader” is part of theseries “Latin American Readers,” publishedby Duke University Press. Also inthe series are “The Peru Reader” (1995),“The Brazil Reader” (1999), “The MexicoReader” (2003), “The Argentina Reader”(2003) and “The Cuba Reader” (2004),with other countries destined for documentationin the series in the future.Published by Duke University Press(www.dukeupress.edu), the book is editedby Steven Palmer, author and assistanthistory professor at the University ofWindsor in Ontario, and Iván Molina,author and history professor at theUniversity of Costa Rica. It is available at7th Street Books in downtown San José(256-8251) for ¢11,850 ($25).

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