Mrs. Weber's Reviews > Bitter Grounds

Bitter Grounds by Sandra Benitez
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's review
Jul 11, 2011

it was amazing
Read from July 11 to 21, 2011

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 how both families are at mercy to the violence that occurs. Each family ends up losing a great deal to senseless violence that like a true epic, this story speaks to the needlessness of everything that was occurring in El Salvador.

The Prieto family is first drawn into the violence when Ignacio, a coffee plantation worker, gets drawn into a strike that is occurring among the workers of this plantation. He is killed in the violence that ensues leaving his family Mercedes, Jacinta, and Tino to fend for themselves. Tino is lost is the ensuing violence and is adopted by a guardia who ironically was going around the countryside just killing the native people. Jacinta and Mercedes think Tino is lost and killed and not until the end of this book does this storyline play out. This leaves Mercedes and Jacinta who end up becoming servants in the home of the aristocratic Contreras family. The book from there follows the next two generations of the Contreras family and of the Prieto family as they serve the Contreras family.

What I found to be most striking in this book was how Benitez portrayed both sides of the violence that was occurring unemotionally, which in my mind made the story much more powerful. This book tells both sides of the story, shows the faults of each side, and ultimately unabashedly points out how senseless and needless all of the violence that occurring truly was. This conflict is powerfully illustrated when Benitez states, "When all is said and done, there are the few who have and the most who don't. Between the two, there's a chasm with no bridges to link them" (347). This quote was said by one of the characters in the book who in a good-natured way gets drawn into fighting for the rights of the poor. However, sadly, she ends up becoming as evil as the government that she condemns through using violence to get what she and her group wanted to achieve. Again, her choice to use violence causes horrible and senseless death to occur and effects both of the families.

Although the quote above stated there is no bridge between the "haves" and the "have-nots", the stories of these two intertwined families testifies otherwise. Their lives become intertwined throughout the generations, their daughters become friends and yet sadly class always wins, leaving the Contreras family the wealthy upper class, and leaving the Prietos as the family that serves them. This truly is one of the great tragedies that pulls on your heart strings throughout the book. You find yourself caught up equally in the stories of both families and just as dismayed when some horrible event occurs to one character or another. I think this is where Benitez's brilliance lies in her writing of this book. You, as the reader, feel just as passionately for all the characters and ultimately feel the senselessness of everything that ensues. You want to change the events. You want to speak to the characters so that they could help one another. But ultimately, what you are witnessing is the story of a country at war with itself.

Benitez describes this struggle when she says, "It might be a tragedy, but that's the way it is. One person's failing is another person's gain. To survive in this world you have to deal with reality" (350). I found myself however rejecting this idea throughout the book. Why did the events that occur have to occur? I think that Benitez wanted us to question the events as well. Ultimately, what resided with me throughout this book is that the violence, the class system did not matter. What really mattered were the stories of the people told in the book. What summed up my take-away from this book was stated well when it said, "You must start to live your life by the light of what you yourself would want carved on your stone" (302). I love this idea. So much in this book could have been avoided if characters could have just stepped away from what others were telling them to do, and just did what was right.

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Quotes Mrs. Weber Liked

“You must start to live your life by the light of what you yourself would want carved on your stone" (302).”
Sandra Benitez, Bitter Grounds

Reading Progress

07/11/2011 page 32
07/11/2011 page 52
11.0% "This novel follows a family who work on a coffee plantation in El Salvador. Ignacio (the father) is murdered in an uprising. In the pandemonium, one of la guardia finds Tino (Ignacio's infant son) and decides to take him home: "'Not this one. This one I'll take"(32). Mercedes and Jacinta (Ignacio's wife and daughter) are left wondering what happened to the baby. I think Tino's story will continue throughout the book."
07/15/2011 page 96
21.0% "I find it interesting how Benitez shows both sides of the violence occurring. Mercedes and Jacinta are now working on a coffee plantation for the wealthy owners. In one scene, one of the workers gets fired due to his trying to unionize. His reaction was, "The blade cut through the pagador's wrist"(94). How is this farm worker accomplishing "justice" by mutilating someone?"
07/21/2011 page 323
70.0% "The different social classes is shown through Flor and Maria. Magda (Flor's mom) promises to send Maria (the maid's daughter) to school. Magda is deciding what school is best for Maria and she argues with her family: "'To send a maid to La Asuncion would be ridiculous.' 'Maria is not a maid...She's just a little girl'"(282). Here, Magda argues for Maria, but ends up sending her to the "more appropriate" school."

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