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When I Was Elena: A Memoir
Date of Review: 
Published Work: 
David Pitt

This book could use a subtitle, something along the lines of “What I Learned in Guatemala as a Peace Corps Volunteer.” The title alone says little about the book, and its target audience could pass it right by without a second glance. Which would be a pity, because it really is a very good book. When she was 22 years old, “fresh from college in the refined Deep South,” the author— much to the consternation of her parents—headed off to Guatemala, where she soon discovered that her every preconception about the country was either woefully inadequate or flat-out wrong. It was her chance meeting with several women (including a fugitive from justice and an incest victim who had not yet reached her teenage years) that enabled Hiltebrand to see what Guatemala was really all about. The book is a sort of a hybrid: Some chapters are written as straight autobiography, while others are more like a novel, ostensibly written from the point of view of the women whose lives the author touched. Rich in detail and character, this memoir will have great appeal for anyone interested in Guatemala or in volunteer work.