Rosa offers an alternative portrait of Christopher Columbus in this debut work of historical revisionism.
It is now widely understood that certain elements of the popular story of Columbus (that he was the first European to reach America, that he alone in his era believed that the world was round) are false. Rosa presses even further, presenting the case that nearly everything that readers think they know about Columbus’ voyage to the New World—even the identity of the explorer himself —is fiction. Available in English for the first time, Rosa’s account of the true history of Columbus posits that the Admiral of the Ocean Sea was not the lowly son of a Genoese weaver but a member of one of Portugal’s most prominent families and the secret prince of Poland. A friend and agent of the Portuguese King João II, the Madeira-born Segismundo Henriques entered the service of Spain specifically to lure the Spanish west toward what he knew to be a new continent. In so doing, he hoped to distract them from the real India and thereby ensure Portugal’s trade hegemony. Furthermore, to obscure his true identity as the son of the dethroned king of Poland, Henriques adopted the pseudonym “Cristóbal Colón.” The secret has remained hidden for centuries, though clues in manuscripts, murals, ruined chapels, and DNA tell the real story for those clever enough to suss it out. Rosa is understandably defensive about having his work dismissed as a conspiracy theory, though what he advances is quite literally that: he argues that Columbus and others plotted to hide his true identity, to disseminate misinformation, and to deceive Spain for the benefit of Portugal. The author’s depiction of Columbus assuredly violates Occam’s razor, which doesn’t signify it can’t be true but does mean it isn’t terribly persuasive. “There is only one history of the world,” writes Rosa, “although there are countless ways for people to retell it.” With this nod to subjectivity, the author invites the reader to enjoy what is, in the end, a fun mystery surrounding one of history’s most prominent figures.
An enthralling, if ultimately unconvincing, hypothesis for the origins and motivations of Columbus.