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Giancarlo Giannini (rather than Charlton Heston) as admiral of the ocean seas in this intriguing portrait. No disparagement intended. Granzotto's Columbus is a native son of the Mediterranean: skeptical, intense, moody, volatile, more flawed, embattled dreamer than golden hero. Granzotto writes his story from the inside out--focusing on the personality and talents of a figure who remains surprisingly taken for granted. His is neither grand naval history nor tale of conquest (though Columbus' sometimes disappointing forays through the Caribbean are chronicled in detail), but a human portrait drawn to scale. The setting here is in superb relief; Granzotto sounds like Marquez inventing a fantasy world of doges, palaces, and the sun-baked towns of the Italian Riveria. His descriptions of the world Columbus fought to leave and the one he found are fresh and stirring (""The smell of the sea is never the same as that of the ocean,"" he writes of Lisbon, where Columbus settled after leaving Genoa, ""which tells of its hidden force, throbbing like a distant heart.""). The scholarship is solid, and Granzotto draws not only on all the key sources (including Columbus' own writings and those of his son, Las Casas, and de Madariaga) but on apparently firsthand retracing of the voyages. ""Apparently"" because past and present, narrative and argument are woven so tightly together as to be sometimes indistinguishable. It is doubtful that Granzotto will provide much new fuel for the many disputes about origin and provenance that mark Columbusiana (""Was he Jewish?"" No, and that is that, says Granzotto. He was the son of a Genoese woolmaker), including the truth about Brendan and Leif Erickson. The historical fact is there for Granzotto, and it says Columbus. His task was to bring the mariner to life. and that he does. Perhaps Columbus is more quizzical, strong-willed, and flawed (he preferred sailing away from difficulties) than he has been pictured before. The author's re-creation of intention and feeling often borders on the extravagant. But this is a needed history, literate, dreamlike, its spirit shaped by Cervantes as much as Morison. The academic impedimenta are few, gratefully, and the translation is fluid, colloquial, and engaging.

Pub Date: Oct. 4th, 1985
Publisher: Doubleday