Book Recommendation: Love in Translation: Letters to My Costa Rican Daughter


Love in Translation: Letters to My Costa Rican Daughter

By Katherine Stanley Obando

I’ve never met Katherine in real life. It’s one of those friendships where you actually have never heard each other’s voices. Sounds a bit strange, yes? Let me explain.

Katherine and I (also Kathryn!) are both part of an online group of women that talk about bicultural issues, particularly family and marriage questions. This group was started by my Costa Rica best friend Trish (who’s actually from Ohio and also married to a tico!), who also has a cultural blog here. We’ve all enjoyed connecting with other women all around the world that are also in this bilingual adventure we call bicultural marriage.

And that is how I met Katherine. She is naturally super-excited about her new book Love in Translation: Letters to My Costa Rican Daughter, based on her personal blog, and of course she shared it with our group conversation. And since I’m such a lover of all things reading (in my 5 seconds of free time), I went straight to and bought it.


While waiting for the book to arrive, I checked out her blog. Dedicated to her daughter, each entry is a letter written for her little one to read someday. She describes writing about her personal experiences as a mother after the nighttime quiet settled over the house, which was a very different writing environment than being a reporter for the TicoTimes.

Katherine is also married to a tico, so we have an immediate bond. Her writing is expressive and fresh, weaving together her past experiences as first a gringa navigating the tico world of San Jose with her present reflections of what she hopes for her tica daughter. All the while, Katherine explains the linguistic maze that is pachuco, the Costa Rican slang that I am only now coming to terms with in my eight-year-language-learning journey.  

Costa Ricans pride themselves on their many sayings, and it can take years for us gringos to even scratch the surface of understanding. Each chapter is titled after one of these dichos that grace the daily conversation of our beloved ticos. (Katherine claims she is still detrás del palo, but as another gringa in the learning process, I’d say she’s ten light years ahead of me!)

An example of a fun saying she explains is that of MacGyver. If you were around in the late 80’s/early 90’s, you might remember this TV series about a man who could fix anything, and in the process, saves lives and defeats the bad guys.


Well, that show became its own saying in Costa Rica. If you encounter a problem that seems impossible, you just reference the show and say, “Let’s do a MacGyver.” Katherine writes to her daughter:

                “Your dad and I took the train home one night from the National Stadium after a game and got off near the university for a night cap. It was a good thing we planned to do that, because when we alighted we saw that our train might not be going any further anyway. Some yahoo had parked right on the tracks.

                 “Now, I have never parked a car on train tracks in a major U.S. city, but I assume it would not end well. Either the train would plow right over it, or you’d get arrested and fined a zillion dollars, or both. But this was Costa Rica, and here was the car, and a train far too slow and chunky to pulverize it, and lots of people waiting to get home, and no apparent solution in sight.

                   “Then the call went up. Hagamos un MacGyver. A dozen guys got off the train and started bouncing the car up and down, until it bounced so merrily that they were able to cajole it right off the tracks, as a happy crowd gathered around to watch. Five minutes later, the car was moved, the train lumbered forward, and all was well. This would never have occurred to me. I laughed out loud.” (p.75)

From taxi drivers to downpours, Katherine manages to give me a thousand flashbacks to what feels like distant memories. Love in Translation embodies the bicultural experience: living in one culture while being largely influenced by another. She embraces Costa Rica’s traditions and linguistic offerings with open arms.

Yup, friends for life, Katherine and Kathryn, a friendship that spans across cultures and languages and mothering ideas. Whenever I need a heart-to-heart again, I’ll pick up Love in Translation and enjoy again!

And her thoughts on her book? Find an interview with Tico Times here! Enjoy!



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