In nine thematically linked stories set largely in Guatemala, Concepción and the Baby Brokers brings to life characters struggling with universal emotions and dilemmas in a place unfamiliar to most Americans. From the close-knit community of Todos Santos to the teeming danger of Guatemala City, to a meat-packing plant in Michigan and the gardens of Washington DC, Deborah Clearman shows us the human cost of international adoption, drug trafficking, and immigration.
A Cup of Tears, the opening novella, reveals a third-world baby farm, seen through the eyes of a desperate wet nurse, a baby broker, and an American adoptive mother. In “The Race” a young man returns to his native village to ride in a disastrous horse race. “English Lessons” tells of a Guatemalan immigrant in Washington DC who learns more than English from a public library volunteer. A teenage girl tries to trap her professor into marriage in “Saints and Sinners.”
With searing humanity, Clearman exposes the consequences of American exceptionalism, and the daily magic and peril that inform and shape ordinary lives.
Paperback: 236 pages
Publisher: Rain Mountain Press; First edition (March 15, 2017)
Publisher: Rain Mountain Press; First edition (March 15, 2017)
I have become a fan of short stories over the past few years and love how they give me quick glimpses into different situations, places, and lives. Having the stories in Concepción and the Baby Brokers set mainly in Guatemala and involving Guatemalan culture and different walks of society gave me a clearer picture and better understanding of a country that I don't often get to read about. About the first 100 pages, titled A Cup of Tears, is given to the title subject and is about the illegal brokering of Guatemalan babies. This novella pulled me in quickly, told from the perspectives of the servant who sells twin baby boys, the agent/buyer and the lawyer involved in stealing them, the mother and grandfather looking for them, and the potential adoptive mother. It's a powerful and sad glimpse into an all-to-real problem.
The remaining six stories vary in subject and although not all of them held my interest equally (common for me in short story collections) they were all well written and worthy of inclusion. These are not light or overtly humorous snippets of life as many of the characters are struggling with something, but they do ring true--life isn't easy for many of the people we meet inside the pages. The characters all live in or have ties to the Todos Santos municipality, a more rural area in the Northern Highlands of Guatemala where the people are mainly of indigenous, Mayan descent. The area is most well-known for its annual All-Saints Festival and 'drunken' horse races where many of the riders drink for days before the race--the subject of one of the stories.
Although the author was not born in Guatemala, her descriptive writing of the scenery, food, people and culture makes it clear she has spent much time there. She has a novel called Todos Santos about an American artist and mother who travels with her son to Guatemala and heads for the remote village. After reading these stories and becoming intrigued with the country and region, I am adding the novel to my TBR pile. I would definitely recommend Concepción and the Baby Brokers to short story enthusiasts and those looking to expand their reading horizons to learn about a different country that they may not know much about.
Author Notes: Deborah Clearman is the author of a novel Todos Santos, from Black Lawrence Press. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals. She is the former Program Director for NY Writers Coalition, and she teaches creative writing in such nontraditional venues as senior centers, public housing projects, and the jail for women on Rikers Island. She lives in New York City and Guatemala.
For a relatively short book of stories, there was plenty of food to be found in Concepción and the Baby Brokers. Foods mentioned included corn, tortillas, chilies and miltomates (tomatillos) in a blender and made into a sauce with onions, burnt squash seeds and cinnamon, turkey in golden sauce, a sweetened maize drink, chichitos (a Guatemalan tamale), peanuts and bags of sliced mango, dishes like jocón, pepián, carne guisada, adobada, a peanut butter sandwich, soup of garlic, veggies and mashed tortilla, chila chayote, oatmeal mush, croissants and coffee, banana and papaya, huevos divorciados, fried chicken, black beans, mini bananas, orange cheese doodles, fresh rolls, armadillo soup with tomatoes, potatoes and wild greens, elotes (street corn), a pot of beans, chicken a Big Mac, sushi canapes, dips and pasta, grain and bean salads, carne asada, and margaritas at a picnic, beets, pan dulce, and hibiscus, cinnamon and chamomile tea.
When picking my book inspired dish I wanted to go with something classic and there were a few mentions of scrambled eggs with onions and tomatoes, served with tortillas and also with beans. It was supper in the mentions in the book, but when looking up recipes online it turns out that it is a classic Guatemalan breakfast as well.
I found the recipe I used online at The Antigua Guide. It said, "This recipe is as Guatemalan as corn tortillas. Try it when you’re getting tired of the same old scrambled eggs. Guatemalans modify the recipe in many ways. For example, sometimes people add corn tortilla bits or cooked chorizo instead of tomatoes and onions. Accompany the eggs with Frijoles Chapines (Guatemalan black beans any style) and Tortillas de Maíz (corn tortillas). Or serve the eggs atop a panfried corn tortilla with beans on the side. You can also modify this recipe by making the eggs sunny side up and using the onion and tomato combination." I modified the recipe just slightly--adding more tomato and onion to my eggs.
Scrambled Eggs with Tomatoes and Onions
Adapted slightly from Amalia Moreno-Damgaard via TheAntiguaGuide.com
(Serves 2--or 1 Hungry Girl at Dinner) ;-)
2 large eggs
1 Tbsp olive or canola oil
1 Roma tomato, diced
1/4 sweet onion, diced
sea salt and black pepper
To Serve: refried black beans, corn tortillas, chopped cilantro, & lime wedges as desired
Place oil into a medium skillet over medium heat. When hot, add tomato and onion and season with salt. Cook until they become saucy and thicken, about 5 minutes. Taste and add additional salt if needed.
Meanwhile, beat the eggs until combined and fluffy.
Turn heat to medium-low and add eggs to the sauce, combining well. Cook until eggs are cooked through and creamy, stirring as needed.
Serve hot, along with black beans (refried--I used Amy's brand or whole beans), corn tortillas, lime wedges and cilantro as desired. Enjoy!
Notes/Results: I actually ate my breakfast for dinner because of timing and all but I would be happy to enjoy it any time of day. It's a simple preparation but the eggs has plenty of flavor--especially when paired with the black beans and scooped into the tortillas. I eat eggs with red sauce and eggs with salsa often and this is similar and quick to through together. I did want more veggies in my eggs, so I used a whole tomato and about a fourth of a large sweet onion with my two eggs. Refried beans are easy enough to make but I had a can of Amy's refried black beans in my pantry that I wanted to use. Heating the beans and warming the tortillas on stovetop burner happened while the tomatoes, onions and eggs cooked and dinner was on the table in about 15 minutes. Easy, filling, and delicious, I am sure I will make it again.
I'm linking this post up to the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.
Note: A review copy of "Concepción and the Baby Brokers" was provided to me by the publisher, and TLC Book Tours. I was not compensated for this review and as always, my thoughts and opinions are my own.
You can see the stops for the rest of this TLC Book Tour and what other reviewers thought about the book here.