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From The CriticsThis excellent memoir from BOOK contributor Kephart, the author of the National Book Award-nominated A Slant of Sun and Into the Tangle of Friendship, documents two decades of visits to El Salvador, the birthplace of her husband, who introduced her to the pastoral and dangerous country. A tiny but immoderate place, volcanic and mountainous and poor—and at the time, plagued by a recently concluded civil war—El Salvador was, in Kephart's mind, almost purely a locus of violence. On her first trip, the author, who didn't speak Spanish, found herself jouncing along a narrow mountain road in a Jeep packed with her husband's aunts, who exchanged unintelligible gossip, laughed uproariously and made "amusement-park shrieks" and "funny, mock-horror faces" when the car threatened to slide into the chasm below. Throughout the next eighteen years, Kephart documented stories of her husband's family and collected telling fragments of the nation's history. She writes in the book about the diet of the ancient Mayas; the bizarre beliefs of the dictator known as El Brujo, "The Sorceror"; and the murder in 1980 of Archbishop Romero, who was shot while saying Mass. The language, which has the cadence and color of fiction, captures the simplicity of the landscape and its people. As Kephart becomes attached to El Salvador, recognizing its beauty and human worth, so do her readers.