Life and Times
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 An overwrought biography of Spain's famous monarch, by historian Liss (Visiting Fellow/Johns Hopkins Univ.). Liss contends rather successfully that Isabel was far more than a Great Lady who took a shine to Columbus. Her tale begins here as an endless series of petty schemes around the weak King Enrique (who preceded Isabel), plunging the reader into a hallucination of sycophants, perversion, murder most foul, groveling courtiers, and human greed. Lurid detail piles up. The gay Enrique--was his penis operational? How about sperm quality? Could he master his distaste and...engender? This is the gossip's view, with a period-piece tone that overwhelms any sense of cultural context, social evolution, or economic realities. Before the ``surreptitious royal wedding'' comes the classic meeting of Fernando of Aragon and Isabel of Castile: ``[Fernando] came to Valladolid from Duenas, secretly, with only three retainers, and entered the house by a postern gate....As they entered the room, Cardenas excitedly pointed him out to [Isabel]...that is he, that is he!'' Clearing this too-dense thicket of detail and supposition, we eventually get to a plump, warlike Isabel who eschews fun at Lent, prays conspicuously, manipulates her husband expertly via the machinery of the chivalric code, and does to the Moors more or less what Elizabeth did to the Armada. Isabel expels the Jews with equal dispatch and greater profit, and Columbus, it seems, was all in a day's work--part of building an empire. A realist, this Isabel, and a better stylist than Liss, who has a problem subordinating details. Writing about war casualties, Isabel wastes no royal words: ``The dead weigh on me heavily, but they could not have gone better employed.'' (Twelve photos, maps- -not seen.)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-15-507356-8
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1992