Book Review: Encounters Unforeseen: 1492 Retold by Andrew Rowen (Four Stars)


Book Review: Encounters Unforeseen: 1492 Retold by Andrew Rowen

(Four Stars)

“The sea has protected our people from whatever lies beyond.”

A monumental effort. Deep historical research marred by modern, irrelevant speculation. The depth and detail Rowen attempts leads to so many narrative threads and point-of-view characters (often hopping from one head to another mid-paragraph) that keeping track is a challenge. Too much exposition disguised as narrative. Slow going, but worth the effort.

“The bones of the dead are food for the living.”

A strong point is the evenhanded depiction of the varied beliefs, even when the thoughts or actions seem reprehensible to modern sensitivities. Rowen doesn’t shy away from getting into the head of people. Armed with detailed diaries of Columbus and Queen Isabella, he is more imaginative with the natives of the new world, though he had sources for them too. Seventy pages of appendices.

“These men are of a brutish and incredibly powerful tribe, where force prevails over conscience.”

Using four different names for Columbus (and other characters) may have been linguistically correct, but it was confusing.

“[Columbus] was overpowered by the recognition that there was no essential difference between these conquered [and enslaved] peoples–commoners–and himself.”

Illustrations by Robert Hunt. Nice clouds on the dust cover, but the ships look awkward.

“He found a priest and confessed his sins, particularly of frequently believing the voyage and discovery were his achievements alone rather than those of the Lord.”