Encounters Unforeseen: 1492 Retold
All Persons Press
9780999196106, $32.95, HC, 550pp, www.amazon.com
Synopsis: After 525 years, the traditional literature recounting the history of Columbus's epic voyage and first encounters with Native Americans remains Eurocentric, focused principally (whether pro- or anti-Columbus) on Columbus and the European perspective. A historical novel by Andrew Rowen, "Encounters Unforeseen: 1492 Retold" now dramatizes these events from a bicultural perspective, fictionalizing the beliefs, thoughts, and actions of the Native Americans who met Columbus side by side with those of Columbus and other Europeans, all based on a close reading of Columbus's Journal, other primary sources, and anthropological studies.
The drama alternates among three Taino chieftains (Caonabo, Guacanagari, and Guarionex) and a Taino youth Columbus captures, Spain's Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, and Columbus himself. It depicts the education, loves and marriages, and other life experiences each brought to the unforeseen encounters and then their astonishment, fears, and objectives in 1492 and 1493. The focus includes the Taino "discovery" of Europe, when Columbus hauls the captive and other Tainos back to Spain, as well as the chieftains' reactions to the abusive garrison of seamen Columbus leaves behind in the Caribbean. Throughout, the Taino protagonists are neither merely victims nor statistics, but personalities and actors comparable to the European, and their side of the story is forcefully told.
"Encounters Unforeseen" weaves a fascinating tapestry of scenes and dialogues from the historical record, often incorporating text from primary sources. Isabella plots her dynastic marriage, argues with Ferdinand over who's supreme, and wages war to expand their kingdoms. The chieftains take multiple wives to consolidate their rules, vie to marry the beautiful Anacaona, and battle Caribe raiders. An unknown Columbus conceives a fanciful voyage, marries advantageously to promote it, and yet suffers an agonizing decade of ridicule and rejection. Guacanagari rescues Columbus when the Santa Maria sinks, but Caonabo questions Guacanagari's generosity, and Guarionex is vexed, having witnessed a religious prophecy of Taino genocide inflicted by a "clothed people." Columbus teaches his captive Christianity, initiating the...