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Bitter Grounds

3.92  ·  Rating Details ·  701 Ratings  ·  76 Reviews
Winner of the 1998 American Book Award

Spanning the years between 1932 and 1977, this beautifully told epic is set in the heart of El Salvador, where coffee plantations are the center of life for rich and poor alike. Following three generations of the Prieto Clan and the wealthy family they work for, this is the story of mothers and daughters who live, love, and die for the
Paperback, 464 pages
Published August 15th 1998 by Picador (first published 1997)
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(showing 1-30)
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Tara Chevrestt
What I was expecting: A historical fiction novel following three decades of women and showing the world of coffee plantations, the workers struggles, and the history of El Salvador.

What I got: A telenovela following three decades of "desperate housewives" and showing the world of extramarital affairs and who is having whose baby.

The conclusion: I didn't love it. In all fairness, the beginning was great. I was thoroughly enjoying the life and stuggles of Mercedes. But when Mercedes died, it all b
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
Argh! I need a book from El Salvador, but I just can't do it--the prose is so cliche-ridden and disjointed and all-around awful. Whoever called this "beautifully told" should be fired.
Mar 22, 2012 Elise rated it liked it
I referred to Sandra Benitez's "Bitter Grounds" in conversation the other day as El Salvador's answer to "Gone with the Wind," and that is fairly accurate. This novel offered a rich, atmospheric escape and a cast of flawed but loveable and sympathetic characters among both the landed gentry class and the peasant class working as pickers on a coffee plantation. This is an epic saga that spans the lives of three generations of women, and though it was interesting, it at times reads like a soap ope ...more
Aug 23, 2007 Janet rated it really liked it
i liked it mostly because it starts off RIGHT near me! west is the best, man. no, it was good for other reasons too. like the fact that showed the lives of the rich and the poor between the time of the matanza and the civil war in el sal. for example. i recommend. hell, i{m giving this book another star.
Nov 22, 2014 Carol rated it liked it
Started out as the historical fiction I thought it would be then got very slow and dull and kind of cheap romance like. Plowed through and finished it but wouldn't give is more than 3 stars.
Mrs. Weber
Jul 11, 2011 Mrs. Weber rated it it was amazing
This was one book where after I finished it, I had to remain in silence for quite a while. It is such a powerful testament to the story of the history of El Salvador told through an epic story of two families. It follows the Prieto family starting in the 1930's all the way through four generations who all serve the same aristocratic family who own a coffee plantation. What really is the forefront of this book is the story of the injustices that occur in El Salvador throughout half a century and ...more
Jul 11, 2011 Kim rated it it was amazing
This was one book where after I finished it, I had to remain in silence for quite a while. It is such a powerful testament to the story of the history of El Salvador told through an epic story of two families. It follows the Prieto family starting in the 1930's all the way through four generations who all serve the same aristocratic family who own a coffee plantation. What really is the forefront of this book is the story of the injustices that occur in El Salvador throughout half a century and ...more
Mar 23, 2017 A rated it liked it
In terms of writing, plot and character development, this book is not spectacular. The characters are very predictable and the plot twists telenovela-esque. But the fact that there is a radio novela story within the story suggests that Benitez was well aware that 'too much drama' detracts from the quality of a story. Her plot choices seem intentional, though I would be curious to know why she made these choices.

Still, this book has a lot going for it. Benitez uses fiction to capture 5 decades of
Bitter grounds, coffee, a harvest many of us crave and one who many in the land of the Savior or El Salvador depend upon as Sandra Benitez tells us in her three generation saga, Bitter Grounds. This richly textured American Book Award Winner, is a sort of rich man, poor man, upstairs, downstairs, set in El Salvador from 1932 through 1977.

It is a compelling read and Sandra Benitez grabs the reader and transports her to El Salvador with the first sentence:

“The parakeets ascened in a rustling roar
Jan 24, 2009 Kathy rated it really liked it
Finished! Am I elated because now can go back to my Iles bok? Well,yes & no. I did like this book - mostly because I delighted in the author's wonderful use of DETAIL - but in general I did not care for her writing style. I found her first part too Hemingway-esque in its use of language and therefore sort of demeaning to the simple 'rustics' being discussed:"Me Tarzan...Me stupid"

Also, I was offended in the way that Benitez just sprinkled in a taste of Magical Realism without really developi
Sam Grace
Mar 16, 2009 Sam Grace rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction, hiatus, poc, latinidad
Maybe if I stuck with this book a little longer I would actually like it, but I'm halfway through the second chapter and giving up. I don't usually read this type of fiction, but a book about mothers and daughters in El Salvador sounded very appealing. Unfortunately, the first mother depicted, Mercedes, is a flat caricature.

Here's a couple of passages that turned me off:

"To show respect, Mercedes had lowered her gaze, but the priest's words confused her. Goyo was not an unbeliever. Mercedes and
Jul 27, 2013 Nancy rated it it was amazing
I don't know why it took me so long to read anything by Sandra Benitez. She lives in my area, and I've even been to an authors' panel at the Loft that included her. There are many Minnesota authors that I follow, such as Louise Erdrich, Faith Sullivan, William Kent Krueger, and Lorna Landvik. Benitez adds the voice of a Latin American. Born in El Salvador, she writes a saga of several intertwined families of peasants, servants, and wealthy landowners, through 3+ generations. Their careers, loves ...more
Susan Fetterer
Aug 12, 2011 Susan Fetterer rated it really liked it
I have liked all of Sandra Benitez' books. I've had the privilege of having her come to my book club for a discussion of her work and I have a particular affinity for her stories. She writes about what she knows and is genuine, engaging. A huge advantage of living in a larger metropolitan area which has a significant literary community, both writers and publishing houses, is having the opportunity to meet with authors. Their willingness to get together with their readers is mutually beneficial a ...more
Michelle Lemaster
Aug 01, 2015 Michelle Lemaster rated it it was amazing
Much like Luis Alberto Urrea's The Hummingbird's Daughter and Sandra Cisneros' Caramelo, this book is epic in scope. Part of my own personal Latin reading streak, this book was second in my own personal series of books by and/or about Latino characters/people. In this book, Benitez beautifully tells the interrelated stories of characters connected to El Salvador's coffee plantations. I can't recommend this book enough. As a matter of fact, when I discovered that my beloved Hayward Library did no ...more
Apr 09, 2016 Renee rated it liked it
I enjoyed this book. I learned a great deal about the events surrounding and leading up to the civil war in El Salvador, and I appreciate the author's balance in showing the lives and perspectives of both the rich and powerful, along with the poor and dispossessed. The story was compelling at many points, and the main characters were all fairly well developed, but I didn't feel a strong connection to any of the characters. Perhaps it's because the story is divided into three parts, with each par ...more
Nov 24, 2013 Therese rated it it was amazing
I didn't want this book to end. Loved it. I do have a personal connection to El Salvador having traveled there 5 times, including 3 mission awareness trips where we have visited the homes of the very (materially) poor and spent time with our sponsored children. Have also been to most of the places mentioned in the book which also helps this story resonate with me. (And have been to where Fr. Grande was murdered and to his burial site.) With all that aside, I know I would have loved this book any ...more
Jan 23, 2009 Sierra rated it it was amazing
Shelves: latino-a-lit
This is one of my favorite books of all time. If I could give it six stars, I would. It's a beautifully written story about 3 generations of women from very different socioeconomic classes in El Salvador from the 1930s through the 1970s. The characters are complex and interesting, all of them flawed but likable and you can't help but feel for both sets of women, even though half of them come from a life of privilege. Anyone who is interested in Salvadorian history or Latin American history in ge ...more
Aug 12, 2009 Marvin rated it liked it
I think this author aspired to write the Dr. Zhivago of El Salvador, covering three generations of women in three families: two patrician families & one Indian family that became domestic servants for one of the patrician families. The coincidences that were forgiveable in Dr. Zhivago were somehow less so here, and this book presented a less nuanced view of revolutionary activity, becoming preachy near the end. But it was a good read nonetheless & revealed the sharp contrasts of life sty ...more
Dec 10, 2013 Irene rated it it was amazing
I read Bitter Grounds shortly before taking a trip to El Salvador and am so glad I did. Having some knowledge of the history and upheavals that occurred in this small country gave me so much more appreciation regarding the lovely people and countryside. The civil war is still a very recent event, but thankfully now it appears to be a safe and beautiful country to visit. I loved the book and believe Sandra Benitez did a wonderful job developing the characters and events. I will definitely be read ...more
Sep 15, 2010 Karen rated it it was amazing
Well--I loved this one too. After The Help I somehow chose 2 other books about women who clean for other women. This book takes place in El Salvador and is dramatic and violent and gripping. It's a generational novel which entwines the lives or the local Pipal Indians and the affluent class of coffee plantation owners. It was so rewarding to read the stories of women from different cultures and classes--a fascinating read!
Jul 06, 2012 Diane rated it liked it
I would probably give this book 3.5 rating. It was told by an experienced author who grew up in El Salvador. It's a story of 3 generations of rich and poor. Heartaches by the truckload and strength to overcome. It had a little too much of the politics in that country, but it was still interesting. The maids for the rich reminded me of the book "the Help" (but totally a different time and place.)
Betty McMahon
Sep 09, 2012 Betty McMahon rated it liked it
The beginning and end of the book documented the terrible turmoil in El Salvador in the 1930s and 1970s. What's sandwiched in the middle of the book, however, is more like a Latina novella -- who's sleeping with whom, especially. It reads like a romance novel, with the same kinds of conflicts written about in romance novels. The book might as well be 2 different books. I had all I could do to get the the part where she brings everything together at the end.

Me encantó el principio y me capturaron los capítulos finales. La parte entre el principio y el fin fue blah. Las relaciones amorosos no son así y menos en países con tendencias machistas, ese poco apego a la verdadera situación, le quita credibilidad (aunque sea una historia ficticia). Y María Mercedea con su deseo de construir un mejor país, terminó cometiendo "peores" crímenes que la gente que criticaba. Triste saber que movimientos sociales pueden arruinarse al tener extremistas.
Mar 06, 2009 Wendy rated it it was ok
I deeply enjoyed the premise of the novel, and the way that it weaves Salvadoran history into the plot that spans three generations and the better part of a century. I give Benitez an A for effort, but in the end, I found BITTER GROUNDS is too long, its characters too predictable, and its lessons just a bit too obvious.
Apr 20, 2008 Jamie rated it liked it
This is a pretty good book. I loved the beginning and the middle and got a little confused as I got towards the end when it got so political. The contrast between the rich and the poor and the way the author balances the two is intriguing. I have only read a few books about South America's history, so I'm glad to add this one to my list!
Outstanding. A novel set in El Salvador spanning several generations of both the aristocratic landowners as well as those who serve them. The class distinctions are very well portrayed, the reasons for the turbulence and civil war clearly explained through the lives of the characters in the book. A bit long at times, but well worth the read.
Apr 06, 2013 Lisa rated it really liked it
"Bitter Grounds" is a 50 year saga of a few families in El Salvador both poor people and oligarchs in the years leading up to their civil war. Sandra Benitez has obviously researched this period in history thoroughly. Seen through several well drawn characters, the issues become very clear - and very heart breaking.
Feb 19, 2010 Kirstin rated it liked it
I liked this book more while reading it while playing in El Salvador. But, I got roped in and the characters stuck with me long after the flight home. It's an epic tale of 3 generations of El Salvadorian coffee plantation owners and the workers who tend their fields. Probably could have been 1/2 as long and done the job just as well.
Sep 12, 2016 Rita rated it it was ok
i think I read the same book everyone else on here but I wasnt anywhere near that impresed! It is a very easy read, but I had trouble keeping track of the characters. My takeaway wasn't so much about the feudal system in El Salvador ans the rise of communism there as much as the sex lives of these women. Not recommended.
Jan 06, 2009 John rated it it was amazing
I moved through this one really quickly. It was quite interesting to read as it is set in El Salvador, but aside from that, the engaging development of a group of intestingly interconnected characters confronting sometimes unbelievable circumstances over 40 some odd years of history is reason enough to pick this one up, whether or not you have a close personal connection to El Salvador.
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Beautifully written 1 12 Apr 06, 2009 02:55PM  
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