Reviews of Mayan Folktales: Folklore from Lake Atitlán, Guatemala

"These Stories are populated with talking animals, humans transformed into animals and animals into humans, kettles and pans complaining about their burnt bottoms, talking beans and corn, tricksters and shamans, dragons and giants, and priests whose behavior is decidedly unpriestly. Some of the stories are funny; some are bawdy; some are edifying; but all are entertaining."

    --Tamara Agha-Jaffar, 5 April 2017,

"Fairy Tales. My husband is from Guatemala and we use the book to allow me to glimpse his culture. It is a fascinating read for anyone who likes fairy tales."

    --Chrystina Trulove-Reyes, 16 March 2016,

"Great Book. My daughter loves them and it's a great connect with our roots through these stories."

   --Luis, 30 May 2015,

"Learning from my granddaughter. An excellent array of stories from an intriguing culture. Now I have a fuller appreciation of some of the things my granddaughter is studying in Guatemala."

    --EdJoanne Hollatz, 13 June 2013,

"A Masterwork of Mayan Folklore. James Sexton has done it again with this engaging collection of folktales from the Lake Atitlán region of Guatemala, in Central America. Here are stories of corrupt authorities, sneaky thieves, desperate poor men and frightening supernatural beings that influence or outright control the lives of the Maya Indians. Sexton is an A+ editor who knows how to tell a rollicking good tale, and he has selected a couple dozen winners which give you a broad overview of many areas of Mayan life in the modern world. Folktales take you into the imaginative life of a people, and these will show you Mayan hopes and dreams, fears and longings even as they weave stories of earth lords, intelligent animals and brave men trying to take care of their families in trying circumstances. If you're into the Maya this books is a must buy; if you're a lover of folktales this work will expand your repertoire of world cultures and introduce you to the Maya Indians; if you're a general reader here is a fun read that will remind you of Grimm's Fairy Tales and the oral tradition that the industrialized countries have all but lost. James Sexton is a first-rate story collector and story teller, and I recommend all  works most highly."

    --Neodoering, 6 January 2012,

"For those of us who have always enjoyed reading about other cultures and their stories this is a delightful find."

    --Richard L. Trethewey and Maggie Ramirez, Rainbo Electronic Reviews, May 2006.

"Reprint of 1992 edition (New York: Anchor Books) offers rich panorama of 35 Quiché-Maya folktales from the Lake Atitlán region...  Scholarly introduction is a valuable orientation to the tales, and fine translations maintain essential orality of the transmission.  Notes, references, and a Spanish-English glossary complete this outstanding collection.  Highly recommended for the classroom as well as the general reader."

    --MA, Handbook of Latin American Studies (HLAS On-line), Library of Congress, February 2005, Volume 60.

"I lived and worked in Lago Atitlan, it is by far my favorite part of Guatemala and I love these tales. Some of the stories here I never heard there."

    --Sara Castellano, Listmania! Books for your Journey to Guatemala.

"After a very intense, but fantastic, week in Todos Santos I felt the need to get away from it all, and what better place than San Marcos, a small village set into the side of a mountain on the banks of Lago Atitlan.  Days were spent sitting on docks, gazing out to the huge lake and the towering volcanoes beyond, watching men in small dugout canoes fishing for their dinner, and reading a book of Mayan folktales -- beautifully written stories of witches and shamans, of magic and metamorphosis, of love and life, and of the creation of the world and all the beings within it.  They serve to entertain and to reinforce cultural beliefs and values such as honesty, industriousness, sharing, fairness and cleverness."

    --Nick Putman, From the Road: Dispatch No. 5, On la Ruta Maya: Guatemala, February/March 2002.

"This book is definitely charming for those who want to penetrate the Guatemalan Maya culture that still lives strong in the small villages that populate the Highlands.  Stories are interesting and show many hidden sides that not often come out from other more general text books.  Recommended!"

    --A reader from Oulu, Finland, 4 December 2001,

"The book under review is a colorful mélange of myths gathered from the 14 towns in the region surrounding Lake Atitlán in Guatemala...With these examples and many others like it, Sexton's collection reveals an enlightening picture of native Guatemalan culture.  For those interested in dissecting the culture of this region, Mayan Folktales is a good place to start.  It provides valuable information on diverse aspects of the culture of Lake Atitlán, with a complete introduction, bibliography, notes, and even a glossary that defines some of the stories' indigenous terms."

        --Jason Swartwood, Cultural Survival, Fall 2001: 83.

"The tales related are witty, fun and serious and sometimes bring one up with a start.  This is a delightful book to read, but along with being entertaining it is a demonstration of the value of folktales within the anthropological realm of the study of a culture...Sexton's Introduction is a story in itself and gives the reader the background needed to thoroughly understand and enjoy the tales, his Notes give additional and needed explanations."

        --Janet M. Carey, Littleton, Colorado,, September 2001.

"A collection of thirty-five Mayan myths including the Maya Quiché.  The excellent introduction provides the reader with worthwhile background material explaining folklore as it ties story to Mayan culture and beliefs.  Wonderful resource. 265 pp.  All ages."

        --Kathryn Worley,, March 2001.

"Come to this Mayan book as a pal, ready to share a drink and hear some outlandishness, ready to laugh, ready to shake your head in amiable disbelief..."

        --Kara Lee Egizi, Southern Humanities Review, Volume 34 (2), Spring 2000: 198-200. 

"An excellent collection of Mayan folktales, myths, and stories from highland Guatemala [translated from the Tzutuhil Maya]."

        --Kay Almere Read and Jason J. González, Handbook of Mesoamerican Mythology 2000: 273.

"Here you will find exotic traditional folklore, tales of gods and witches, curanderos and devils, the exploits of naguales (people who can change into animal forms), battles between good and evil, and cautionary tales which convey the ethical standards of an insular people.  And if that doesn't get you excited there's also one hell of a lot of obscenity, sex and cheap laughs at other people's expense...Mayan Folktales: Folklore from Lake Atitlán, Guatemala depicts an unromanticized indigenous culture that is often alien to most of us and fascinating to all."

        --Steven Robert Allen, Weekly Alibi, Albuquerque, 27 May 1999.

"Reading this book, my mind raced back to the anthropology class I'd taken during my senior year of college.  I remembered my professor and all the horrible books we had to read.  Sometimes I find myself speaking textbook language.  If this book had been on the syllabus, I would have enjoyed myself much more in the class, and I definitely would have gotten better grades.  This book is easy on the brain and still manages to pack in a semester's worth of learning.  The best part: it's a quick read, light-hearted and clever at the same time."

        -- María Morgan, Urban Latino, Vol. 4(3), July-August 1999: 93.

"This wonderful collection of stories from the rich Mayan mythic heritage contains a panorama of tales about witches, shamans, spiritualists, and picaresque figures who inhabit the upper and underworlds."

        --Colonial Latin America Historic Review, Vol. 8 (3), Summer 1999: 393.

"A delightful collection by the eminent anthropologist and his Mayan collaborator.  Written in an oral style, filled with ancient wisdom."

        --NACLA Report on the Americas, XXV(5), May 1992: 11.

"Anthropologist Sexton (Ignacio) has compiled nearly 40 folktales from the Mayan Indians, focusing on the Quiché-Maya of Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. In so doing, he reveals a rich and complex culture that is still very much alive.  Many of the myths, according to Sexton, are designed to reinforce behavior considered positive by the society.  They often demonstrate a bawdy sense of humor, as in the story of the promiscuous woman who eats her lover's sex organ and as a result dies of thirst.  Others reveal an anti-technological strain (a rich man tries to send his son money by hanging it on the telegraph wire).  Finally, the highly entertaining story of the Rabbit and Uncle Coyote, in which the clever rabbit constantly outwits the coyote, cannot help but remind readers of the African-American tales of Br'er Rabbit and Br'er Fox or modern "Roadrunner" cartoons--thus showing the universality of the emotions tapped by these myths.  In an excellent introduction, Sexton contrasts the Guatemalan Mayans with their more familiar cousins in Mexico. (May)"

        --Publishers Weekly, 6 April 1992: 58.

"The handsome, colorfully designed book recounts the folk tales in simple, straightforward language.  The stories are funny, sad, poignant and always moving."

        --Paul Sweitzer, Arizona Daily Sun, 9 June 1992: 2.

"The native tales in this collection offer a rich and lively panorama of Mayan mythic heritage, with a broad selection of both ancient and contemporary voices. Included are legends of witches and shamans, spiritualists, tricksters, and devils; fables of magic and metamorphosis; absurd and wild stories of love and life; and cautionary tales of the danger lurking within the human heart."

        --B.J. Violet, UCLA Magazine, Fall 1992: 50.

"The tales are a mixture of different types including creation tales and tales of village life, but all the tales are entertaining and educational.  This book of folktales is an interesting addition to any folklore collection."

        --Hugh M. Flick, Jr., Kliatt, Vol. 26 Sep. 1992: 27.

"Over a 20-year period, anthropologist Sexton journeyed to the area in and around Lake Atitlán of the Central American highlands, gathering 35 examples of regional folklore.  Compiled with the help of a Mayan native, the resulting collection of fables, cautionary tales, and legends provides a broad selection of folkloric voices both ancient and contemporary."

        --Reference & Research Book News, Oct. 1992: 11.

"In many of the stories, kindness to animals is urged.  Of the stories with this theme, I especially liked 'The Man Who Changed into a God,' perhaps because its sense of justice most nearly matches my own."

        --Carolyn Banks, Washington Post Book World, Sunday, July 1992: 6.

"Resulting from twenty years of careful field research by an esteemed anthropologist, this assembly is a rich array of enduring legends and tales sustained in the Mayan heritage.  The work favors known folk heroes and narratives endemic to Mayan culture.  Sexton includes classic, vital accounts of fables, legends and cautionary tales and rituals.  His lucid collection provides glimpses of ancient and contemporary examples of folk narrative that reflect the values and beliefs thriving in this exotic, tropical land."

        --Come-All-Ye, V. 13, Fall 1992: 9.

"Folklore is both literature and an ethnographic record.  Sexton's collection can be appreciated from a wide variety of perspectives that fall somewhere between the literary and the ethnographic. ...the collection serves splendidly the purpose of a wide variety of readers.  All levels."

        --A.J. Mixco, Choice, May 1993: 1532.

Joint Reviews of Ignacio and Mayan Folktales:

"The diaries (Son of Tecún Umán: A Mayan Indian Tells His Life Story 1981; Campesino: The Diary of a Guatemala Indian 1985; Ignacio) and the folktales weave together to provide one of the most important sets of documents we have for Guatemala and Mesoamerica.

"The folktales display aspects of the Tzutuhil worldview and affective life not found in the diaries. For example, in life, a strict morality governs relations between the spouses. In art, there is a tense, lusty, more open relationship.  In life, laziness is a scandal, nearly a sin.  In art, laziness combined with cunning can pay off.  In origin myths, the Tzutuhil rework the Garden of Eden story and somehow make it less stern that the western version.  The folktales also describe the morality of reciprocity, beliefs in ultimate justice, robust sexuality, Chaucerian priests, tricksters, and the Tzutuhil natural and supernatural landscape.  Many of the tales are cautionary, reflections of what is and what ought to be, and many of them are strong, ribald, just plain racy, and funny stories.

"The Bizarro-Sexton team is a rare good event for Mesoamerican scholarship.  They have produced documents of great value to ethnographers, historians, political scientists, community developers, folklorists, and the general audience.  The documents will be mined and minded for generations."

        --Norman B. Schwartz, Ethnohistory, Vol. 30, 1993: 491-93.

Joint Review of Mayan Folktales and Heart of Heaven, Heart of Earth

"Since the early 1970s, James D. Sexton has been working with Ignacio Bizarro Ujpán, the pseudonym for a Tzutuhil Maya from the Guatemalan area of Lake Atitlán, in an effort to learn and record folktales.  Their efforts can be appreciated in two delightful books: Heart of Heaven, Heart of Earth and Other Mayan Folktales and Mayan Folktales: Folklore from Lake Atitlán, Guatemala.

"The stories captivate the reader’s interest by various means.  Beside providing a glimpse at the life and beliefs of the people, they are told in a way that allows the peruse to imagine that he or she is present.  They also appeal to the emotions and imagination.  The characters’ nature and circumstances arouse sentiments that enable the reader to identify with and develop keen feelings about the actors.

"This reviewer commends and graciously thanks James D. Sexton, Ignacio Bizarro Ujpán and the presses of the University of New Mexico and the Smithsonian Institution for their active interest in the preservation of this type of material."

        --Mary H. Preuss, Latin American Indian Literatures Journal, Vol. 16, Spring 2000: 1-17.

"Este libro es una colección de cuentos mayas folklóricos traducidos al inglés. El mismo constituye una muestra representativa de la herencia mítica maya expresada a través de la narrative. El lector podrá encontrar en él leyendas de demonios, brujos, shamanes, cerros encantados y naguales (personas que puede convertirse en animales), cuentos picarescos, moralejas que advierten de los peligros que acechan detrás de una cara desconocida, de los actos imprudentes. La obra refleja manifestaciones del universo de los mayas, sus valores, sus creencias, sus mitos y mucho más."

"This book is a collection of Mayan folktales translated into English. It is a panorama of Mayan mythic heritage expressed in narrative form. The reader will find in it legends of devils, witches, shamans, enchanted hills and naguales (people who can change into animal forms), ribald stories, cautionary tales that warn of the dangers lurking behind an unfamiliar face, of imprudent acts. The work reflects manifestations of the universe of the Mayas, their values, their beliefs, their myths and much more."

        --Eddy Gaytán, Mesoamérica, Vol. 40, December 2000: 243.

Guatemalan Fabric

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