The Path of the Jaguar
Saskatoon: Thistledown Press, 2016
In 1997, as Guatemala emerges from thirty-six years of civil war, Amparo Ajuix , an energetic young Mayan woman, sees a chance for a better life for herself, her husband and her children. Amparo charts an intricate path between her indigenous Mayan culture and Cakchiquel-Mayan language, and the alluring opportunities of the nearby tourist town of Antigua. Yet barriers block Amparo’s path: her village is divided between Catholics and Evangelical Christians, her husband suspects that their second child is not his.
As Amparo’s culture erodes and her hopes confront seemingly insurmountable obstacles, she resorts to both traditional wisdom and personal determination to take a decision about her children’s future that no mother should have to make.
Drawing on rich cultural detail to illuminate family relationships in passages that are sometimes realistic and sometimes magical or humorous, The Path of the Jaguar is a novel of deep feeling and surprising reversals set in a social and geographical landscape that is as unforgettable as it is unforgiving.
“Henighan’s latest work, the novel The Path of the Jaguar, takes on the familiar territory of refracted cultural identity. The book’s heroine is Amparo Ajuix de Hernández, a Cakchiquel (Maya) woman who lives in a mountain village above Antigua, Guatemala. Like Castillo, Amparo must cultivate her identity among various cultures and traditions in order to survive, despite the fact that she, unlike Castillo, finds meaning and wonder in her indigenous heritage[…]
“What is the way forward, for Amparo? Is she — like the jaguar on her handmade bag, like Castillo, like Henighan, like so many of us — receding further from her origins? There’s a moving passage dedicated to the idea of a “woman acting on her fantasies,” but we’re reminded, particularly by Amparo’s bold, final act that “any path we choose involves loneliness.””
It is extremely hard to write on Mayas by any non-Maya author […] Stephen Henighan, however, did an excellent job of dealing with Kaqchiquel, and a better job than all non-Maya Guatemalan novelists, with the possible exception of Mario Payeras, in crafting the Maya belief system.
The story of a young Mayan woman attempting to preserve her language and culture despite narrowing possibilities in the years following Guatemala’s 36-year civil war, The Path of the Jaguar drives closer to our current anxieties around appropriation, although I found it featured the more thoroughly depicted protagonist. That might be because of the novel’s sincerity or that Amparo Ajuix’s desire to pass her culture and Cakchiquel language to her children is this novel’s constant…. The Path of the Jaguar is not a fix for the lack of Cakchiquel books on the shelves, but it gives a reader some idea of why we might want one.