Another dazzling postmodern evocation of a conquistador and a continent from Argentinian writer Posse (The Dogs of Paradise, 1990). Posse's subject for fictional revisionism is the notorious Lope de Aguirre, a lieutenant of Pizarro's who betrayed his commander and established his own ill-fated empire in the upper reaches of the Amazon. Aguirre (subject of the 1973 Werner Herzog movie The Wrath of God) is one of those larger-than-life villains who are so richly susceptible to postmodern irony, as well as the now-obligatory fugues into magic realism. Posse's Aguirre, who has made a pact with the devil, is cruel, greedy, and congenitally restless. As he leads his followers, both the dead and the living, through the jungle in search of riches, he tortures his men, slaughters local tribes, and with his men abuses the hospitality of the legendary Amazons and their queen. They struggle on to Cartagena, to a new world with different rules and ways of doing business. Distressed by the changes, Aguirre heads back into the jungle, finds Eldorado, which also disappoints, and only a brief period of domesticity at Machu Picchu with the longed-for Girl-Nun offers a temporary respite. Aguirre and his companions continue to appear in various incarnations over the centuries; he survives torture in Argentina, then finally dies while choking on a chicken bone, but his daimon is too fierce and infectious to be extinguished—plunder and treachery will continue. Aguirre has his good side, though, and, like Faust, becomes by the end an object of pity, an ambitious Westerner consumed by ``a strange power that seems exclusively destructive,'' unlike the Indians, who are ``content to simply commune with the things of the world.'' Posse's second—a splendid match of insight and imagery, with a bawdy, iconoclastic, and always engrossing narrative—is another memorable portrait of a particular person and place, as well as a familiar human trait.
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