In the Land of Eternal Spring. Alan Howard.

Howard, Alan. In the Land of Eternal Spring. Harvard Square Editions, New York, 2017. F;6/17.

This is a good read in the genre of young rich-world people off in a poor country getting into political trouble. But it’s also a touching love story, written from the 50-years-later perspective of a journalist (so we know he survived) filled with nostalgia. A nice look at adventure from a perspective of seasoned sentiment.

Peter Franklin is a journalism student down in Guatemala in the 1960s to document a JFK-inspired American literacy program. We like Peter. He’s a straight shooter, self-confident but not arrogant, and not apologetic about enjoying a fairly high-temperature love life. He meets Laura Jensen who, although not the hottest tamale on his table encourages in him a deeper romantic feeling. “She listened in a way that made you feel you were saying something very important” and had “a stubbornness so gentle you could not easily detect its obsessive roots”.

Literacy programs were not the only American activity in Guatemala at that time. It turns out that Laura, who lives and works in a different city than Peter frequents, is involved with the Guatemalan civil war which was fought for 30 years or so between leftist poor people and the US-supported military government. The two see one another infrequently enough for absence to make Peter’s heart grow fonder, and it becomes clear that Laura is trying to keep him out of trouble. Unsuccessfully, eventually.

Peter is sceptical anyway about political activism. “Teaching people to read and write was as close as I cared to get to playing God: overthrowing governments was out of my league.” He also has another girlfriend, a sexually adventurous perfectly-proportioned Guatemalan he meets by the poolside of a wealthy military officer. Peter says of himself

… there is no better way to learn the customs of another country than to sleep with a native. I could fall in love or something like it with such ridiculous ease in those days that I had very little idea who the object of my desire actually was.

Not unexpectedly Peter’s much more compelling and serious attraction to Laura and Laura’s political activity are on a collision course. I was moved by Peter’s description of being unable to cry in the face of terrible events:

It was like that when my mother died. The heart freezes but you don’t know it’s frozen. You walk around for years or maybe even the rest of your life thinking you are perfectly normal until, if you are lucky, you are able to return to the scene of the crime, so to speak, and perhaps restore something of what has been destroyed.

Peter reminded me bit of Jay McInerny’s character in Bright Lights Big City: bad boy with a complicated and damaged but salvageable heart. The plot line of events, in this case sex and violence, are realistic but they are the beguiling surface over a strong romantic and sentimental – in a good way – undertow. I liked the scope of this author’s skill. 9.0/8.2

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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