cover image Daimon


Abel Posse. Atheneum Books, $20 (275pp) ISBN 978-0-689-12123-4

Written in Spanish in 1978 but only now published here, Posse's imaginative but ultimately facile novel posits that Lope de Aguirre, maddest and cruelest of the proverbially mad and cruel conquistadores, did not die leading a splinter of the conquistador Pizarro's campaign into the depths of Amazonia in 1561, as was previously thought, but sustained himself, his band of followers and his depraved sense of mission for another four centuries. In this way, Posse's Argentinian magical realism strives to eclipse the literal history of the European engagement with America: deep in the interior, Aguirre's men become drones of an extraordinarily voluptuous tribe of exogamous Amazon women, but--being Christians--are soon restless and double back to the European fringe on the coast. Then they depart in search of El Dorado and actually find the legendary great golden dune, but the quantity and sterility of the wealth there depresses Aguirre's spirit. So he abandons his mission, elopes with a nymphomaniac nun, and by 1802 has set up house in the still undiscovered city of Machu Picchu. There, for a time, he devotes himself to concupiscence rather than power and empire. Posse's ( The Dogs of Paradise ) slapdash narrative follows the manic character of his hero, to whom any whim is already a half-realized marching order, but the author's literary assertiveness, even combined with sensual detail, still amounts to a thin and glib gloss of 400 years of history. (Nov.)