SEA OF LENTILS by Antonio Benitez-Rojo


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A cool-eyed revisionist first novel from Cuban-born Benitez-Rojo that re-creates the Spanish conquest of America--with no heroes, only religious fanatics and grasping adventurers. Deliberately disdaining a sustained narrative, Benitez-Rojo describes the conquest with a sequence of episodes in which a quartet of characters tell of their experiences in the New World and in Spain. There is the dying King of Spain, who had devoted his life to the furthering of the faith and the eradication of heresy. As he lies dying, he recalls the ill-fated Armada and the threats to his Empire from the new Protestant capitalists, the British and Dutch merchants. A second speaker traces the beginning of the lucrative African slave trade, which enriched Spanish merchants as well as British adventurers like John Hawkins. The third voice is that of the son-in-law of the Spaniard--and founder of St. Augustine--sent to wrest Florida from French Huguenots. Attached to his father-in-law's army, he participates in the brutal extermination of these French refugees. The fourth account is given by a petty rogue and adventurer--a common soldier--who would be quite happy to settle down with what little he has acquired, except that the conquerors have started a train of violence that will not--may never--cease. There can be no ending, no redemptive resolution. Together, these form at the end a portrait of almost unrelieved squalor, horror, and depravity. Rich in detail, vividly written, and a strong challenge to the old mythic assumptions. Benitez-Rojo is an accomplished writer, but at times--in his eagerness to strip the story of its old heroes--he deprecates the context: all life--Spanish or native--was nasty, brutish, and short back then, and no one was quite as enlightened as we like to think we were. Still, an interesting debut.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Univ. of Massachusetts Press