ODYSSEY OF COURAGE by Maia Wojciechowska


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The Odysseus of this book is Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca, the first of the Spanish conquistadors to venture across the southern part of North America. In 1528, he joined an expedition to Florida. As the large group began exploring the interior, shipwreck and disease as well as the general poor planning decimated their numbers until only Cabeza de aca and three others were left. They completed an arduous eight year trek across to the Southwest and into Mexico. This takes up the first part of the book and it is a fascinating record of hardships met with endurance. The second part, which like the first relies heavily on carefully selected material from Cabeza de Vaca's own accounts, deals with his term as Governor of Paraguay. The unifying element is Cabeza de Vaca's attitude onward the Indians. In the first half, he is shown becoming acquainted with them and in the second part, his attempts to protect them led to his being deposed on charges trumped up because of his dedication to their welfare. The author seems to have completely accepted the partisan report of Las Casas, the fervent 16th century defender of the Indians, in the wretched state of their affairs, and she does not indicate that the faultlessness of Cabeza de Vaca's administration is still a a matter of controversy between North American and Latin American historians. With these reservations, the book is knowlegeable in details about the period, well-researched and very readable. While there is some fictionalisation of dialogue, it is carefully pinpointed. As a moving narrative of martyrdom, this takes a fine second book by the author of Shadow of a Bull.

Pub Date: March 23rd, 1965
Publisher: Atheneum