Prasad’s second novel (Fabulous Voyage Across the Sea, 2010) explores Spain in the late 15th and early 16th centuries via the perspectives of three men, each of whom becomes involved with Christopher Columbus.
For Miguel de Avila, life in Spain is growing worse. The flames of the Inquisition are increasing, and even the conversos—Jews who converted to Catholicism—like himself are the object of violent religious hatred. He is only slightly surprised when his dying father implores him to flee to safety. But first he must locate his imprisoned half brother, Luis de Avila. After paying a hefty bribe to free him, the two seek refuge. Miguel hears of an ambitious man named Cristobal Colon who has a scheme for a faster route to the Indies. Intrigued, Miguel secures passage on the Santa Maria, and his already dubious estimation of Colon is not improved: Miguel is one of several men abandoned when Colon returns to Spain. Realizing Miguel did not return, Luis joins Colon’s second voyage. His opinion of the man is no better than Miguel’s, thinking him “greedy and ambitious but wearing a mask of piousness,” and he’s appalled by his treatment of the native people. Unable to find Miguel, Luis returns and locates Miguel’s son, Aurelio. After university, Aurelio participates in the investigation into Colon’s questionable assertions, ultimately documenting his experiences with Colon and exposing the unjust, criminal actions of the Inquisition. 500 years later, Aurelio’s manuscripts are discovered by American Paul Henry, who must decide whether to use them to dissuade the Catholic Church from canonizing Columbus. Throughout the nearly 500 pages of the story, Prasad pays precise attention to historical detail, and his descriptions of life in Inquisitorial Spain, on the ships, and on the newly discovered islands are vivid. In the final section featuring Paul Henry, the largely reserved prose becomes more modern and relatable, and the pace accelerates as well. Some may find the cast too unwieldy. This, combined with an overall leisurely pace and an abundance of detail, may frustrate the casual reader.
An epic, plodding saga jam-packed with historical specifics.