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Spain and the days of the Inquisition background this story of the Andalusian youth who first sighted land on Columbus' journey to the New World. Both the story and the characters are virtually submerged in the minutiae provided to convey atmosphere and a semblance of authenticity. The text purports to be the record- written in after years (to account for some of the contradictions of terminology) by Juan Rodrigo of Triana, nicknamed Lepe, and starts with his months as a student in the Dominican monastery where he came under the influence of Marino, the converse (Jewish convert) cartographer and teacher, and of Fray Juan, arm of the Inquisition. From the start of the story, the intensities, the iniquities, the contradictions of the Inquisition, the venality of the court and the church, the pervading sense of fear -- all this is admirably conveyed. I found this first third more provocative, more holding than the balance. For when Columbus comes on the stage -- and the record continues with the story of the voyage- the dissension and jealousy and hatred that pervaded the crews and the leadership colors the whole of the telling. Finally, in the last third, when Rodrigo has been forced to flee Spain, to take on the identity of a Moor in North Africa, and to live with his hate and spirit of revenge, the unity of the story somehow breaks. Two romances- both oddly enough with girls of Jewish heritage- never actually come alive. The book presents new facets- and many controversial ones- of Columbus' career, and the approach is a fresh one. But it makes often difficult reading.

Pub Date: Jan. 5th, 1952
Publisher: Doubleday