Ronald Wright’s newest book is a brilliant and epic work of historical fiction set in 16th century Peru. It begins with a young Peruvian boy called Waman. Waman lives in a small fishing village on the coast with his parents and cousin, Tika. At the cusp of manhood, Waman is itching to experience the world. He wants to take the sea and earn the respect of his family.
Waman sets off one morning with just the clothes on his back and some food in search of adventure. But adventure finds him. He secures a place on the crew of a ship which has only just set sail when it is taken by Spanish sailors and Waman becomes their hostage. Though he fears he will soon be killed, instead the sailors teach Waman their language and he becomes the only person who can interpret for them. What began as a search for a little bit of adventure turns out to be a long and arduous one.
The story takes us from Peru to Spain and back again. We meet historical figures like Hernán Cortés, and witness first-hand the effects of the smallpox epidemic and its aftermath. We sail alongside the conquistadors as they return to take Peru and all its riches, and we stand on the sidelines as they trick, cheat, lie and violently fight their way into a “new” world.
You know you’re in the presence of great talent when someone makes something incredibly difficult seem effortless. Anyone can put words on a page. I’m doing it right now. But very few can make them come to life as Ronald Wright does.
Not only did his characters leap off the page, complete with unwashed beards and brandished swords, but each setting was drawn down to the last detail. Built on the bones of history, the story is fleshed out and brought to life on the page. Wright’s extensive knowledge of Peruvian history and culture (his book Cut Stones and Crossroads is an anthropological exploration of Peru’s roots and cultural history) is evident in his representation of the social structure of the Incas. Their society before the invasion of the Spaniards was not only socially equitable, but extraordinarily advanced. Their architecture is remarked upon by the invaders as being supernatural because they can’t imagine how mere humans could have achieved such feats. I came away from this book with a great admiration of Incan society, and find myself wondering what they could have accomplished had they not been derailed by the conquering Europeans. This is a book that will teach you as much as it entertains you.
I particularly loved the structure of the book. We all know the story of the Spanish “discovery” of the new world and the death and destruction it brought, but that knowledge is distanced, remote and factual. In telling the story from the perspective of Waman, we get to see both sides of a brutal conflict and come to care about the family he left behind, as well as some of the sailors who help him survive along the way. It is a clever narrative choice that makes every event in the story feel immediate and personal.
I don’t normally read historical fiction. It takes so much work to get used to the setting (and often the linguistic style), and the subject matter is often heavy. But I was pleasantly surprised by how easy this book was to get into. Though historical fiction, The Gold Eaters feels like fantasy and is full of adventure on the high seas.
Whether you are into historical fiction, love an action-packed adventure story, or want to learn more about Incan history in a narrative and entertaining format, this is a book you are guaranteed to enjoy.
A sweeping, epic historical novel of exploration and invasion, of slaves and conquerors, and above all, an enduring love that must overcome the forging of an empire.
Plucked from his small fishing village and captured by the conquistadors looking to plunder the gold of Peru, young Waman is the everyman thrown into extraordinary circumstances, caught up in history’s throes. He finds himself at every major moment in the empire-building of the Spanish explorers, including Francisco Pizarro, and in the culture clash and violent overthrow of the Incan leaders. He becomes an indispensable translator between the two worlds, who must learn political gamesmanship in order to survive and so that he can one day find the love of his life and be reunited with his family.
Based closely on real historical events, The Gold Eaters draws on Ronald Wright’s expert knowledge of sixteenth-century South America, as well as his imaginative ability to bring to life an unforgettable epoch and a world forged anew from violence and upheaval. – Goodreads
**Thanks to Penguin Random House Canada for providing a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!**
Book Title: The Gold Eaters
Author: Ronald Wright
Edition: Paperback (ARC)
Published By: Hamish Hamilton
Released: September 22, 2015
Genre: Historical Fiction, Adventure
Date Read: August 20-September 23, 2015