Official Review: Kidnapped by Columbus by Marc Wilson

Please use this forum to discuss historical fiction books. Common definitions define historical fiction as novels written at least 25-50 years after the book's setting.
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Official Review: Kidnapped by Columbus by Marc Wilson

Post by Libs_Books » 07 Apr 2018, 12:30

[Following is an official OnlineBookClub.org review of "Kidnapped by Columbus" by Marc Wilson.]
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4 out of 4 stars
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To begin, not at the beginning, but at the end: in an Author's Note at the end of his book Kidnapped by Columbus, Marc Wilson states: “This book is fiction. The story is true.” That some up very neatly the very close ties this story has to actual historical events; Wilson outlines how many events and characters fit with the historical record, but also explains exactly where he has exercised some poetic licence. He amply justifies his use of the term 'kidnapped', with which some historians disagree, to describe the plight of a group of Taíno “Indians” who were taken back to Spain by Christopher Columbus when he returned from his first voyage of discovery.

The first person narrator of this extraordinary account is Guarocuya, one of the six Taínos that Columbus 'persuaded' to join him aboard La Niña. Columbus is an ambivalent figure: decent in many respects, and loyal to his friends, but not always kind to his mistress, and with a tendency to religious extremism, a gift for self-promotion and a strong desire to advance his social status.

Guarocuya recounts his adventures alongside his dear friend Rodrigo, a Spanish Jew, as they travel across Spain to the court of los reyes catolicos, the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella. There is plenty of colour, mystery, tension and excitement in the tale and the tensions and dangers only increase when they reach court. Wilson shows how Queen Isabella, in particular, could be capable of great kindness as well as religious fanaticism. She not only acknowledges but also promotes the humanity of the “indians”, whilst others debate whether they are really just monkeys, not entitled to human status. The ugly irony of this, though, is that, because Isabella insists on recognition of their humanity, the Taínos are then expected to convert to Christianity, which brings them within the reach of the notorious Spanish Inquisition.

From that point onwards, it is clear that the main issue of the narrative is going to be whether, and for how long, Guarocuya and his friends, including Rodrigo and the mysterious Count of Messina, will be able to evade a horrific death at the hands of the cruel Torquemada and his fanatical team of torturers and murders.

I hesitated a long time over the rating of this book. If I could give this book three-and-a-half stars, I would. In literary terms it is perhaps just “a good read” - well-structured, and ably narrated; it has also been well-edited, with very few errors. The fictional characters could be seen as lacking complexity and depth, but they are consistent and not entirely one-dimensional. Guarocuya is an engaging narrator who tells his story simply and well. I occasionally found the simplicity grating, and sometimes the fictional embellishments stretched my credulity, but the pace of the story was sufficiently gripping to carry me through all that. Most importantly, and what tips the balance for me, is that this novel offers real insight into a very dark point in history and the kind of thinking that lay behind the terrible human tragedy that was to follow. For that reason, I give this book a rating of 4 out of 4 stars. and I recommend it to all fans of historical fiction and those with an interest in colonialism, human rights and religious freedom.

I began with the final Author's Note, and I'm going to end with the Prologue. Guarocuya explains that his story is being written in his old age, whilst he is in prison, awaiting execution after leading a “failed revolution” against Spain. This means that there is room for a sequel to this book. I dare to hope that Wilson chooses to write it, and I have the courage to read it. It will be grim: there were half a million Taínos before Columbus landed; by the time Guarocuya is committing his story to paper, most of them are dead. The road to genocide, it seems, can be at least partially paved with good intentions.

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Kidnapped by Columbus
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stacie k
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Post by stacie k » 08 Apr 2018, 00:31

I think by reading this book I would have a better grasp of this period of history. Thank you for this informative review!
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Post by DathanReeves » 08 Apr 2018, 01:00

I've listened to the lectures of many people of whom I respect and have opposing ideas about the history of Columbus.

I've heard the tales of the murderous tyrant who lead the way to genocide, and I've heard the praises of a man misrepresented in modern times due to cherry-picked sources sited to promote an agenda. This never ending opposition of what is fact and fiction makes books like this one hard to read.

I've learned to not take sides until I have made my own research and written my own book.

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Post by Libs_Books » 08 Apr 2018, 02:23

Thanks Stacie k and DathanReeves for dropping by. The presentation of Columbus in the book is quite well-balanced, I think, but probably wise not to read it if you're planning your own version.

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Post by Mercy Bolo » 08 Apr 2018, 09:01

Besides what's ingrained in history books, I know little else about Colombus. This book will definitely provide some insight into his actions.
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Post by Irene C » 08 Apr 2018, 09:10

Thanks for this review. Interesting how the beginning and the ending structure the narrative to add complexity, even if the main narrative was told in an overly straightforward way. And what insight into the start of the Columbian Exchange.
Like fictional characters? Like guessing games?
Then you'll love the 20 Questions-Guess the Character game, found in the Off Topic forum! 8-)

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Post by CatInTheHat » 08 Apr 2018, 09:39

This sounds like a very interesting perspective on history. I love history but am not sure this one is a good one for me.
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Post by Libs_Books » 08 Apr 2018, 13:29

Mercy Bolo wrote:
08 Apr 2018, 09:01
Besides what's ingrained in history books, I know little else about Colombus. This book will definitely provide some insight into his actions.
I hope so, though he remains a somewhat enigmatic figure.
Irene C wrote:
08 Apr 2018, 09:10
Thanks for this review. Interesting how the beginning and the ending structure the narrative to add complexity
Yes, I suppose that's true – and the Prologue also lets you know that the narrator survived into old age, though this is where some poetic licence creeps in, as Wilson has conflated his narrator with another historical figure.
CatInTheHat wrote:
08 Apr 2018, 09:39
This sounds like a very interesting perspective on history. I love history but am not sure this one is a good one for me.
Yes, maybe if you're not familiar with this period of European history, this novel would certainly provide a steep learning curve.

Thanks to all of you for dropping by.

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Post by qsusan » 09 Apr 2018, 00:04

A fictionalized history is generally more interesting and fascinating to read while imparting the key facts of said history. History is his or her story and I believe this is the best way to learn about it.

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Post by Libs_Books » 09 Apr 2018, 03:49

Hi qsusan - history's certainly more digestible that way, isn't it? Though sometimes fiction drives me to check out the known facts, which I did with this (should have checked the Author's Note first, it would have saved a bit of time!) Thanks for your comment.

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Post by kandscreeley » 09 Apr 2018, 07:57

I'm glad that you were able to enjoy this one. For me, it's not really my genre, so it doesn't sound extremely interesting to me. Still, for those that enjoy this sort of thing, I know it will be enjoyable.
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Post by Libs_Books » 09 Apr 2018, 11:50

Thanks for taking the trouble to drop by, kandscreeeley, given it's not your genre.

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Post by DathanReeves » 09 Apr 2018, 13:23

Libs_Books wrote:
08 Apr 2018, 02:23
Thanks Stacie k and DathanReeves for dropping by. The presentation of Columbus in the book is quite well-balanced, I think, but probably wise not to read it if you're planning your own version.
Thank you, I will heed your advise.

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Post by BriennaiJ » 09 Apr 2018, 15:57

I have been intrigued about these events in history ever since I learned about them in class. Even though Colombus is hailed as a hero, he killed a lot of people to get to the status where he now lies. I might pick up this novel, just to hear more about the history behind these strange and sad events.

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Post by kfwilson6 » 09 Apr 2018, 17:47

Libs_Books wrote:
09 Apr 2018, 03:49
Hi qsusan - history's certainly more digestible that way, isn't it? Though sometimes fiction drives me to check out the known facts, which I did with this (should have checked the Author's Note first, it would have saved a bit of time!) Thanks for your comment.
I do the same. I really love reading anything about the European monarchy. This sounds really interesting and heartbreaking. I know I would go look up the "real" history as I read this one. Nice review.

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