“That memory, that same feeling of euphoria, now urged me on.“
Mara Benetti ~ Livingston Unfound
Set in Guatemala in the mid-Eighties, during a very turbulent historical period, Livingston Unfound is the journey of a woman, Monica, travelling on her own, taking risks and facing dangers, choosing friends and lovers across cultural boundaries, and, above all, struggling to come to terms with the inevitable contradictions that come with being an affluent foreigner in a land of poverty and repression.
The journey she sets out on forces her to acknowledge her privilege, while she aspires to see the world with new eyes. As she strives to make close and intimate friends across class, race, and cultural differences, she is confronted by the conflicts that come with being a traveller far from home.
South America has been on my Wishlist since I wrote an article about Argentina’s sense of identity in my first year of university. There are so many interesting countries there, all with beautiful countryside and fascinating traditions.
Livingston Unfound brings us a young woman’s experience of some of these countries. Over from Europe, she’s looking for adventure and something different from her life back home. And wow does she find it!
Benetti weaves a story that reads like a memoir, with fantastic descriptions of the towns and cities to which Monica travels. Yet this is no humdrum travel novel. Monica meets an array of interesting people who make her time rich, wonderful and complicated.
Her relationship with Martin is true and realistic. Flung together, they spend time together travelling, but their friendship is one of companionship and necessity, rather than love. Throughout her story we understand the meaning of privilege and how fortunate we really are.
Once she reaches Livingston – a place she visits only on the promise of a reggae concert – the real story begins. It’s slower paced than the first section and not quite as beautiful; however the writing maintains a melodic quality. But the tone gets much darker.
Previously there were minor unsavoury incidents that could almost be described as a ‘scrape’; in Livingston there are more shocking revelations.
In the latter parts of the novel, Benetti looks at the dark side of domestic violence and how the victims respond… Monica sees herself as a strong, independent woman – after all she’s travelling alone in a strange land – but in spite of herself falls into her own sad cycle, struggling to leave the man she loves who isn’t living up to her expectations.
It ends quite abruptly, but the story is well-written and memorable. It’s poignant and heartbreaking as we realise that we should never judge people, for no matter how strong and empowered we may believe ourselves to be, none of us is immune to weakness when dealing with violence and betrayal.
I was provided with a copy of the book by Random Things Tours. All opinions my own.