on June 23, 2013 :
A fabulous shaggy beast of an epic novel.
I was won when Juan sets out on life under the influence of the romances of chivalry that turned Don Quixote’s brains – Amadis of Gaul, Orlando Furioso. Hey, I love those books myself; I’m glad they get a look-in as the culture of the times, even if, inevitably, their function is to contrast with the reality. Yes, as in Don Quixote. Still, I liked to have an innocent, idealistic main, on the Spanish side, but if you want more earthy sorts, there’s no shortage of them – beginning with Pedro, the aging swashbuckler who takes Juan to his garishly-costumed bosom.
Then on the Mapuche side I had Namku, a shaman of his people. He’s a shaman because he’s strange – an albino – and ‘weye’ too, that is, of the sexuality that was worse than the worst sin and blasphemy to the Spanish of the time. I rarely, or make that never since I can’t name any – see shamans that step from the pages of anthropology, not vaguely made up but as they exist/existed within their cultures. In himself Namku was worth three anthropology texts on the subject. Along with that I liked him and his story, and Lleflai, another outcast due to her face being melted in a fire, just to start on the large cast of Mapuche. It’s often the case that the more familiar side, the European, gets a more catchy story, but not the case here: the Mapuche story is every bit as thoroughly invented.
I’ve only talked about what snared my interest, because I read chivalric romances and anthropology on tribes. As I say, though, it’s a epic, that means ample, inclusive, and you’ll find quite other things of interest.
I’d better attempt general comments. In spite of the hideous events of the Spanish invasion, he gives you the opportunity to enjoy the high adventure the Spaniards thought it. As they swashbuckle their way into Chile and crack the grim/gallows jokes known to war, that you have to find hilarious at the time. Importantly, too, for me, there’s a kindness behind the whole. When we have Mendoza dogging natives, I need to be in a kind hand – that’s the author’s. There are nail-biting moments – a few when Mendoza’s off dogging – and don’t miss the Mapuche ball game that’s as thrilling as a battle. I was often glued to the page, and if I snoozed in Mapuche language lessons, that’s fine and right, that, to me, is epic – a word I don’t use in the debased sense. It’s written with wit and charm and frequent humour, which qualities endear a book to me. Deserves a second read – there’s so much here.
(reviewed 67 days after purchase)