Bitter Grounds A Novel

Sandra Benítez




Trade Paperback

464 Pages



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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 their passions.


Praise for Bitter Grounds

"It is a story of passion, politics, death, and love, written with suspense: a country's tragic story seen by four strong women. This is the kind of book that fills your dreams for weeks."—Isabel Allende

"Grabs us at the most visceral level . . . Benítez's clear writing and considerable imagination enable her to make the political personal, luminous, and even comic."—Ms.

"An elegant epic . . . Benítez is a remarkable storyteller."—The Denver Post

"Packs an emotional punch . . . A compelling read."—The Boston Globe

"Explores passion, politics, love, death and betrayal in an intricately plotted mystery . . . Moving and lyrical."Minneapolis Star Tribune

"A luminously rendered second novel . . . Here, memorable pairs of mothers and daughters, caught up in the violence of recent Salvadoran history, live, love, and die for their passions. Benítez excels at capturing the textures of landscape, of class and period, and tells here a multi-generational saga shaped by politics but refreshingly free of polemic. Her upper-class characters are as fairly delineated as her peasants, as she tells the story of three generations of mothers and daughters whose lives intersect. She begins with the infamous massacre of 1932, when Indian peasants suspected of being communists were slaughtered in the countryside. Thirteen-year-old Jacinta and her mother, Mercedes Prieto, are the only survivors of the attack in which their home is burned and Mercedes' husband killed. The two struggle to survive. When Mercedes begins working for wealthy landowners Elena and Ernesto de Contreras, however, life improves. Elena, a more enlightened product of her class and times, has her own sadness: On the eve of daughter Magda's wedding, she discovers Cecilia, her best friend, in bed with Ernesto. Hurt and angry, she vows never to see Cecilia again, which of course has repercussions in a story that suffers from foreshadowing. As the country experiences coups and falling coffee prices, the women try to live normal lives but find it impossible. Jacinta's first love is killed for being a union supporter; Alma, her daughter by a married man, becomes a revolutionary and dies in a botched kidnapping; and Magda, who employs Jacinta and raises daughter Flor, along with Alma, loses her husband and son-in-law in the same kidnapping. Exile in Miami with a hint of a happy ending as the war heats up in the late '70s is the only option for Jacinta, Magda, and her family . . . A sometimes schematic but always vivid chronicle of strong women facing the challenges of living in sad and violent times."—Kirkus Reviews

"Centering on a letter that remains unopened for 26 years, Benítez's impressive saga follows the intertwined lives of three generations of Salvadoran women, the very rich and the very poor, friends and mothers and daughters, mistresses and servants and, finally, oppressors and victims and guerrillas. Their lives are played out against the backdrop of the ever-present radio soap-opera serial and the violence and corruption of the police state and civil war of 20th-century El Salvador. Benítez's prose is rich and fluid; one tastes and smells the world of Jacinta and Magda and their mothers and daughters. Like her first novel, this work is another welcome addition to the growing body of Latina literature."—Mary Margaret Benson, Linfield College Library, McMinnville, Oregon, Library Journal

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Sandra Benítez

  • Sandra Benítez's first novel was A Place Where the Sea Remembers. She grew up in El Salvador, attended high school and college in Missouri, and now divides her time between Edina, Minnesota, where she teaches creative writing, and Mexico. Benítez won the Hispanic Heritage Award for Literature in 2004.





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