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British screenwriter Runcie’s debut is a Zelig-esque romp taking his sad-sack hero from the early 16th century through the early 20th.

In Seville, a young man is enamored of a fine lady named Isabella, who strikes a bargain: she’ll be his if he can bring her “a gift which no man or woman had ever received before.” And so, in 1519, off to the New World sails Diego de Godoy with the conquistador Cortés. In Mexico, while the Spanish armies busy themselves conquering Montezuma, Diego falls head over heels for the lovely Ignacia—and discovers the delights of chocolate. This is the gift he takes back to Isabella—but, impressive though the new taste be, Diego no longer loves Isabella, only Ignacia. It’s back to Mexico, then, where Diego finds only what seems to be Ignacia’s grave. In her family’s city of Chiapas, no one has ever heard of her, and Diego is told that, if he can remember Montezuma, he has to be at least 150 years old (his dog Pedro, too). Aha! it must be the effects of the elixir Ignacia gave him to drink on his departure from her! Poor Diego, lovelorn and uncertain what to do, returns to Europe and—surprise!—is imprisoned in the Bastille with a Marquis who loves Diego’s chocolates and comes perilously near sodomizing Pedro in a most sadistic way. On to Vienna, where not only will Diego’s part in creating the first Sacher torte become clear; not only will he befriend a prostitute who sits for an artist named Gustav (Klimt, might it be?); but his increasing sorrows, depression, alcoholism (and temporary loss of smell) take him for treatment to the Vienna General Hospital, where—that’s right, a certain young doctor has him lie on a couch and talk. There will be much more—including the curious origin of chocolate kisses—before such an end occurs as certainly won’t be revealed here.

Quick, simple, ever-amusing historical fun.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-06-018481-7
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2000