TIKAL by Daniel Peters


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Basing his fictional speculations on scholarly studies of the Mayans' ""Classic Period"" (300-850 A.D.), Peters opts for spiritual awakening and bloodless clan-conflict to explain why the city of Tikal--once wealthy and powerful--was abandoned to ""wind and rain and the spirits of the ancestors."" While the ruler of Tikal, Caan Ac of the Sky Clan, uses the potency of his clan's katun prophecy to hold power and enrich himself, the proud Jaguar Paw clan seems to be idling in a state of lethargy and despondency. But then the Jaguar Paw's ""Living Ancestor,"" the elderly Balam Xoc, has a vision--and, through ritual dancing and gestures, he induces a new spirit of resistance and independence in the clan: one by one, then in groups, the Jaguar Paw people follow him. Among the supporters: Balam Xoc's grandson Akbal, painter and craftsman, whose works are brilliant religious (and sometimes political) statements; Akbal's warrior-brother Kinich, who serves the ruler as warchief until his jungle ordeal and the vision of a Jaguar; elderly Box Ek, sister of Balam Xoc, whose link to the people of the city of Ektun will aid in getting a wife for Akbal; and Pacal, Balam Xoc's suffering diplomat-son, whose own son is Caan Ac's chief steward, and thus torn between two loyalties. Surrounded by his ""Close Ones"" (a devoted ""wild man,"" a healer, a priest), Balam Xoc must free his people, not only from fear and harassment, but--eventually--from himself. And there are births, deaths, treks, rituals, and clan gatherings--all proceeding at a stately, measured pace as the Jaguar Paw clan (its numbers augmented by ""adoptions"") moves toward the inevitable migration from their ancestors' land. As in Peters' similarly stolid The Luck of Huemac (1981), the talk here is often anachronistic, the movers and doers sounding like Dean Rusk at times. (""I do not wish to spoil the consensus you had achieved so skillfully. . . even if it were based on dangerous delusions."") But, if more worthy than enthralling, this lengthy, deliberate period swath--short on action, long on discourse--ripples evenly along, solid in research, concept, and tempo.

Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 1983
Publisher: Random House