Review published on November 13, 2017.
It is the 525th anniversary of Columbus’s epic voyage and first encounters with Native Americans.
Often the subject takes its lead as Columbus the hero and set within the dominance of European doctrines of the time.
This historical novel has taken whole new view and one to be thoroughly commended. With excellent research that is illuminated with beautiful maps and primary pictorial sources in the text, Rowen weaves a narrative in differing locations: Isabella and Ferdinand in Spain where love overcomes the usual power grab scenarios of most monarchies of the time. Columbus’s childhood in Genoa imagines a wide eyed but caring individual.
On the islands to be discovered we learn about the Taino tribes their chieftains, particularly Caconabo, Guacanagan and Guarionex, as well as the impact of their changing fortunes (and they gain as well as lose from the explorers landing on their beaches).
The bicultural portrayal seeks sympathy in differing ways. Trade brought wealth and new goods to islanders who were also happy to offer slaves, whilst we are not ignoring the violence and attacks when invaders do not get easy access.
The young – male and female – are often easy trading items alongside spices and materials. Portuguese trade across Africa begins the novel and in the 1400s slavery was already well established.
Aspects of differing religions are also discussed and the impact of sailors finding a world beyond the strict Christian ‘flat earth’ beliefs with exotic beliefs and new adventures.
This is not an area of history I was at all familiar with. The detail and historical research are readable, although I am not sure a book club would find it one of their favourites. However, for an intelligent but entertaining insight into the world of Columbus and the changes in the New World, it’s well worth a personal read.
Philipa Coughlan 4/3
Encounters Unforeseen: 1492 Retold by Andrew Rowen
Andrew S. Rowen 9780999196106 hbk Oct 2017
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