cover image Civilizations


Laurent Binet, trans. from the French by Sam Taylor. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-0-374-60081-5

Binet (The 7th Function of Language) executes a daring and often delightful counterfactual history of transatlantic conquest. Around the year 1000, Greenlanders and Vikings find their way to the Americas, landing in Cuba and Panama. Here, Binet drily recounts the voyages of Erik the Red, his daughter Freydis, and others who make such observations as, “Day and night were of a more equal length than in Greenland or Iceland.” Later, fragments of Christopher Columbus’s 1492 diary document his failed voyage, as his men are decimated and his plans to colonize the new world are laid to waste. Instead, Columbus informs the Inca, who have meanwhile been exploring to expand their empire, of another world across the ocean, prompting them to set sail in their own spirit of conquest. In the strongest section, Incan leader Atahualpa and his people conquer and scheme their way across Western Europe. The final section follows the exploits of the young Miguel de Cervantes in 16th-century Mexican-controlled Europe, after that tribe’s transAtlantic battles with the Incas. Though some parts are less successful than others, this ingeniously configures a new framework of colonialism, with Mexico dominating the new world. Binet delights with his imaginative powers. (Sept.)