When A Woman Rises

By: Christine Engla Eber
Two Zapatista women, bound by cultural expectations, struggle to express the truth of their lives in the highlands of Chiapas.


Two Zapatista women, bound by cultural expectations, struggle to express the truth of their lives in the highlands of Chiapas.

When a woman rises—no man is left behind and a community is nourished. In the Maya township of Chenalhó in Chiapas, Veronica, a teenage girl, is recovering from a disastrous early marriage. Spurred on by a community program of women telling their stories, she asks her mother Magdalena to record the story of her growing up and that of best friend, Lucia. Magdalena, step by step, day by day, summons the soul of her comadre who has disappeared. She tells how, as young girls, they yearned to be teachers. How poverty, cultural beliefs, and gender roles stole away their dreams.

Magdalena married and bore children, finding expression as a community organizer. Lucia's path diverged radically. Her gift was to be a healing woman, but without knowing how or why, she fell in love with a nun. Distraught, she joined the Zapatistas and struggled with alcoholism. Through it all, Magdalena and Lucia maintained their deep friendship. Then Lucia went north to work in the fields and disappeared. Veronica, with her mother's help, will carry this understanding into the future.

In 1987, Christine Engla Eber lived for a year with a family in San Pedro Chenalhó, doing fieldwork for her PhD in Anthropology. She shared daily life with women and their families, witnessing the difficulties they faced. It changed her life. After all these years she continues visiting with her friends in San Pedro Chenalhó, working with weaving and fabric collectives; and she has created a non-profit WEAVING FOR JUSTICE to sell their work in the U.S. Now, as a respected anthropologist, she writes of their communities. Her research is centered in Chiapas, Mexico where she studies the gendered aspects of social change, specifically womenÍs participation in the Zapatista movement, the weaving cooperative movement, and the Liberation Theology movement of the Catholic Church. She is author of Women and Alcohol in a Highland Maya Town: WATER OF HOPE, WATER OF SORROW which was recently translated into Spanish, and co-editor with Christine Kovic of WOMEN OF CHIAPAS: MAKING HISTORY IN TIMES OF STRUGGLE AND HOPE. She is also a board member of the Maya Educational Foundation which seeks support for scholarships for young people in Maya communities of Chiapas, Guatemala, and Belize.She lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Awards and Accomodations

Independent Publisher Book Award, Multicultural Fiction
Balcones Fiction Prize finalist
Zia Book Award finalist
International Latino Book Award, "Most Inspiring Book of Fiction" Silver
2020 New Mexico-Arizona Book Award, Multi-cultural

4 reviews for When A Woman Rises

  1. Library Journal
    Eber writers compellingly, and fans of contemporary fiction investigating conflicts between traditional and modern mores, men and women, and political factions should enjoy this one.—Faye Chadwell, Oregon State University

  2. School Library Journal
    This is a wonderfully written coming-of-age novel with a great balance of anecdotes about the Chiapas culture and a central driving narrative about tragedy and the lives of women bound by culture and expectations.

  3. World Literature Today Magazine
    Weaving together the voices of Lucia and Magdalena, two Maya women friends, Christine Eber, like the backstrap-loom weavers in the novel, exquisitely crafts a complex and compassionate picture of the lives of Maya people in the highland of Chiapas. Readers will be moved by the daunting challenges these women face and the dramatic twists and turns their stories take. Magdalena chooses a traditional path; Lucia, a frightening, uncharted one. All along, the struggle to survive while remaining faithful to their ancestors’ teachings hovers in the background.—Brenda Rosenbaum

  4. Thrums Books
    When a Woman Rises is set in the Maya township of Chenalhó, Chiapas, a place Christine depicts beautifully and with clear understanding…As Magdalena tells the story of Lucia, their friendship and their struggles, a larger narrative unfolds gradually revealing the complex lives and culture of Chiapas. Through the voice of Magdalena, we hear about the community’s painful history, the rise of the Zapatistas, alcoholism, the fusion of Maya beliefs with Catholicism, and so much more.—Karen Brock

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