Book Notes: The Woman on the Windowsill by Sylvia Sellers-García

Disclaimer: I’m writing a professional review of this book, and it’s going to be worded differently because I’m not as good as this author at writing texts that academics and normal people can both enjoy. But the general idea will be the same.

The Woman on the Windowsill: A Tale of Mystery in Several Parts is like the coolest Cold Case Files investigation and a really fun history book at the same time. Sellers-García conducted a meticulous investigation, pored over some fascinating archival materials, and narrated her findings in a way that reads like a page-turner.

One summer day in 1800, a pair of severed female breasts appeared on a windowsill in Guatemala City. Then, other body parts and mutilated female corpses started to appear. There was an investigation, and a pretty careful and sophisticated one for that time and place. Sellers-García traces that investigation and uses archival information to explain what life, death, love, religion, family, burial practices, etc were in colonial Guatemala.

Somehow, Sellers-García finds a way to give enough background to make the book understandable to people who are completely unfamiliar with the history of Guatemala but not so much that people who are in the field would get bored. The book is a fascinating read, and I’m sorry I didn’t know of it before I choose the readings for my Hispanic Civ course next semester. I’d gladly throw out the textbook and use this book for the part of the course that covers late colonial times.

The author also puts just enough of her own reactions to the information she discovers into the book. Often, people who write this kind of books either overshare or talk about their emotional response to what they learn in a stiff, uncomfortable way.

It isn’t only colonial Guatemala that this book helps you understand. In The Woman on the Windowsill, Sellers-García shows how to approach history in a non-judgmental, tactful way that is sorely needed these days.

I’m very excited to have found such a talented academic author.

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