I met writer Beryl Gorbman over a taco lunch in the Chichen Itza Salon in the conference center in MÃ©rida, Mexico, and I admit, I was skeptical when she handed me a copy of her mystery novel, 2012 Deadly Awakening (Intelligent Life, 2010). I’d just completed a self-guided crash course on Maya studies, plowing through a pile of non-fiction books, most fairly fascinating, regarding 2012 and Maya time-keeping, but also fairly dry and dense. There are hundreds of such titles out there, but never had I seen a fictional treatment.
When I finally cracked open 2012 Deadly Awakening a few months later, I was drawn in and swept back to the Yucatan. “The scene in Merida is chaotic and tense,” reads the description. “People think that the world is about to end, as it is the end of the Maya long-count calendar. Other people think humanity will evolve to a higher form of consciousness. You wouldn’t think these are ideals people would kill to protect, but they do. Thousands of spiritual tourists have descended upon this once-peaceful city, creating chaos. People die, and die very badly.”
Enter a New York City detective and the plot starts thickening by the page. What I most enjoyed about Gorbman’s treatment of the subject is her ability to find a nice balance between fact and funny, as she presents an accurate picture of all the types of people interested in 2012, from scientists to loonies to scam artists and beyond. At the same time, she maintains a tongue-in-cheekness that captures the lighter side of all the hype.
More importantly, she does not forget the Maya themselves — something that happens all too often in stories about 2012 (see the movie by the same name) — nor delicate social problems presented by the presence of foreigners in the Maya region. For example, one Maya character grumbles, “This is what the Maya have come to, he thought, getting angrier and more depressed by the moment. Servants to fucking tourists who think our history is fascinating and that although we modern Maya are for shit, our ancestors long ago were incredible.”
2012 Deadly Awakening is a fun book. Period. The bonus is that is also teaches you about MÃ©rida, Mexico, the people who live there, and some of the remarkable facts surrounding the Maya 2012 story. My only complaint is that the black and white images included in this self-published book do nothing to illustrate the action and even take away from the crackling prose. Warning: Reading this book might make you curious enough to book a flight to MÃ©rida.
It also might make you want to read Gorbman’s sequel, called Madrugada, about the theft of sacred objects from an archaeological site. “The site,” she writes, “is isolated and when the archaeologists move in, their cultures and the culture of the villagers collide in odd ways….”