Popol Vuh: A Retelling is a one-of-a-kind prose rendition of this sacred text that is as seminal as the Bible and the Qur’an, the Ramayana and the Odyssey.
Author: Ilan Stavans
Publisher: Restless Books
An inspired and urgent prose retelling of the Maya 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 Popol 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 Popol 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 Dante’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. Popol Vuh: A Retelling is a one-of-a-kind prose rendition of this sacred text that is as seminal as the Bible and the Qur’an, the Ramayana and the Odyssey. Award-winning scholar of Latin American literature Ilan Stavans brings a fresh creative energy to the Popol Vuh, giving a new generation of readers the opportunity to connect with this timeless story and with the plight of the indigenous people of the Americas. Praise for Popol Vuh: A Retelling: “Salvadoran illustrator Larios provides lush images to accompany stories of the Earth and the underworld, Xibalba, and the animals and gods that inhabit them…. A beautiful interpretation of pivotal Central American history told through contemporary illustration and language.” —Kirkus Reviews “In these pages you will find an adroit retelling of a complex and often confusing tale with a vast and bewildering cast of characters. Approaching the Popol Vuh with a fresh eye and the necessary erudition, Ilan Stavans, the distinguished scholar of Hispanic culture, nimbly conveys the content and the sense of the original, retaining its magic and fascination, while rendering it more accessible to a wider readership. Popol Vuh: A Retelling artfully presents the case for the centrality of this magisterial story to the cultural consciousness of the Americas and for the urgency of its message.” —Homero Aridjis, from the foreword "At a time when so many of us ask ourselves about the end of the world as we know it, few books could be more relevant than this sacred text of the Maya. In a mesmerizing, illuminating new translation, Ilan Stavans brings to contemporary readers this lyrical epic, with its messages from a lost civilization obsessed, as ours should be, with the inevitable cycles of catastrophe and change. The Popol Vuh encourages us to contemplate the perpetual conflict between truth and falsehood, light and darkness, so that we may find the wisdom to emerge as better people." —Ariel Dorfman, author of Death and the Maiden "Popol Vuh is one of the seminal foundational 'texts' of the Americas before it became 'America'—and one so few of us really know much about. Again, Ilan Stavans is infusing the US of A with the cultures and stories that have been traditionally erased or ignored and forgotten. All I can say is, another amazing Stavans project!" —Julia Alvarez "The Popol Vuh is the great book of creation of the Maya K'iche' culture, and Ilan Stavans has embarked on an intrepid adventure of recreation; he returns to a myth of origin to endow it with vibrant topicality, proving that rewriting a legend is a way of bewitching time." —Juan Villoro, author of God Is Round “Many translators, scholars, and poets have brought us close to the radiant eminence of our Mayan origin story, the Popol Vuh. None touch its wondrous dynamism and epic elegance like Stavans and Larios. Free of the formal constraints of the K’iche’ original, Stavans’s delivers a masterful retelling that invites us into chimeric dreams: from the mischievous first peoples and the quests of those grown from seeds, to hybrid creatures and demi-god twins with battles lost and won. Larios’s dexterous admixture of cool washes and vibrant color palettes along with a K’iche’-inspired line-work aesthetic, further unzip our minds to a shared ancestral imaginary. Only my Guatemalan abuelita could cast such storytelling spells over me. Together, Stavans and Larios invite us all to dance as the children we once were and will become. A gift!” —Frederick Luis Aldama, author of Long Stories Cut Short: Fiction from the Borderlands “Ilan Stavans's retelling of this ancient and sacred story of the Mayan people is as exquisitely written as it is necessary.” —Eduardo Halfon, author of Mourning Praise for Ilan Stavans: “Ilan Stavans is an inventive interpreter of the contemporary cultures of the Americas…. Cantankerous and clever, sprightly and serious, Stavans is a voracious thinker. In his writing, life serves to illuminate literature—and vice versa: he is unafraid to court controversy, unsettle opinions, make enemies. In short, Stavans is an old-fashioned intellectual, a brilliant interpreter of his triple heritage—Jewish, Mexican, and American.” —Henry Louis Gates, Jr. “…in the void created by the death of his compatriot Octavio Paz, Ilan Stavans has emerged as Latin America’s liveliest and boldest critic and most innovative cultural enthusiast.” —The Washington Post “Ilan Stavans has done as much as anyone alive to bridge the hemisphere’s linguistic gaps.” —The Miami Herald “A canon-maker.” —The Chronicle of Higher Education “Ilan Stavans is a maverick intellectual whose canonical work has already produced a whole array of marvels... His incisive essays are redefining Jewish literature.” —The Forward “Ilan Stavans is the rarest of North American writers—he sees the Americas whole. Not since Octavio Paz has Mexico given us an intellectual so able to violate borders, with learning and grace.” —Richard Rodriguez “In the multicultural rainbow that is contemporary America, no one may be more representative of the state of the union than Ilan Stavans.” —Newsday “Ilan Stavans may very well succeed in becoming the Octavio Paz of our age.” —The San Francisco Chronicle “A virtuoso critic with an exuberant, encyclopedic, restless mind.” —The Forward “Ilan Stavans has the sharp eye of the internal exile. Writing about the sometimes reluctant reconquista of North America by Spanish-speaking cultures or the development of his own identity, he deals with both the life of the mind and the life of the streets.” —John Sayles “Lively and intelligent, eclectic, sharp-tongued.” —Peter Matthiessen “I think Stavans has one of the best grips around on what makes Spanish America tick.” —Gregory Rabassa “Ilan Stavans is a disciple of Kafka and Borges. He accepts social identity broadly, in the most cosmopolitan terms… His impulse is to broaden, not to narrow; he finds understanding through complication of identity, not through the easy gestures of ethnic politics.” —The New York Times “Ilan Stavans has established himself as an invaluable commentator of literature.” —Phillip Lopate