Sea of Lentils

Antonio Benitez-Rojo, Author, James Maraniss, Translator, Sydney Lea, Illustrator University of Massachusetts Press $35 (216p) ISBN 978-0-87023-723-2
The approaching 500th anniversary of the discovery of America has occasioned a rash of novels that debunk the myth of Columbus as a great visionary and explorer. Cuban emigre author and academic Benitez-Rojo has chosen a different tack for his historical novel, weaving together four narratives that examine the effect of colonization of the New World on the European psyche. His scholarship is detailed and sound, but is coupled with an experimental literary approach that never quite provides a sweeping panorama of this period. As the book begins, a dying Philip II of Spain broods on the ill-conceived launching of the Armada against England and on his own role in the Inquisition. It becomes clear that Philip's religious fanaticism has much to do with the barbarism displayed by the conquistadors in the New World. We are introduced in subsequent story lines to unsavory English and Spanish merchants involved in the profitable African slave trade; a small Spanish regiment that wends its way through the swamps of Florida and duplicitously wipes out a colony of French Huguenot settlers; and a foot soldier who, taking advantage of the simplicity of his Indian hosts, plunders, rapes and kills them before he himself is killed. The New World, in Benitez-Rojo's interesting estimation, is, finally, a rogue's paradise, where it is all too easy to lose one's soul in the pursuit of wealth and the best one can hope for is to ``keep your sins within your own conscience and repent them every day.'' (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 10/01/1990
Release date: 10/01/1990
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 216 pages - 978-0-87023-754-6
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