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Bitter Grounds

This saga of modern El Salvador begins with a 1930s massacre and ends, in the 1970s, with approaching civil war. In between, three generations of women — rich landowners’ wives and peasant survivors — forge bonds of sympathy and loyalty that transcend politics and class differences. Benítez’ gentle, nuanced overview convinces. So do savory details drawn from her Salvadoran childhood, like her recipe for sweet and salt tamales. Comic touches relieve the occasionally dry narrative: A popular radio soap opera runs in counterpoint to the troubled love lives of the novel’s women folk, and a military-academy graduation is celebrated with cookies shaped like guns — the perfect metaphor for this delicate, domestic look at violent history. B

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