Ilan Stavans, by KEVIN GUTTING

A Mayan Creation Story – Ep 82 with Ilan Stavans

Popul Vuh: A Retelling is an inspired and urgent prose retelling of the Mayan myth of creation by acclaimed Latin American author and scholar Ilan Stavans, gorgeously illustrated by Salvadoran folk artist Gabriela Larios and introduced by renowned author, diplomat, and environmental activist Homero Aridjis.

The archetypal creation story of Latin America, the Popul Vuh began as a Maya oral tradition millennia ago. In the mid-sixteenth century, as indigenous cultures across the continent were being threatened with destruction by European conquest and Christianity, it was written down in verse by members of the K’iche’ nobility in what is today Guatemala. In 1701, that text was translated into Spanish by a Dominican friar and ethnographer before vanishing mysteriously.

Cosmic in scope and yet intimately human, the Popul Vuh offers invaluable insight into the Maya way of life before being decimated by colonization-their code of ethics, their views on death and the afterlife, and their devotion to passion, courage and the natural world. It tells the story of how the world was created in a series of rehearsals that included wooden dummies, demi-gods, and eventually humans. It describes the underworld, Xibalba-a place as harrowing as Danta’s hell-and relates the legend of the ultimate king, who, in the face of tragedy, became a spirit that accompanies his people in their struggle for survival.

Ilan Stavans is Lewis-Sebring Professor of Humanities, Latin America and Latino Culture at Amherst College and the publisher of Restless Books.

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