The Gold Eaters by Ronald Wright
Waman, a boy on the cusp of manhood, leaves his small Peruvian fishing village to join the crew of a ship leaving from a busy port. He couldn’t know that the adventure he was seeking would be very different from the adventure that he receives. Waman’s ship, instead of fishing in deep waters or journeying to the South Pacific, instead is boarded by strange men from the north. He is captured by Pizarro’s crew, recently left from Panama and about to give up their search for the reputed gold filled lands of the south when they capture Waman’s ship. Waman is taken prisoner and becomes the reluctant translator for Pizarro and his men for over a decade. Through Waman’s eyes we see the fall of the great Peruvian Inca civilization at the hands of the Spanish by disease (smallpox), warfare and treachery.
I was fascinated by the subject matter of this book, I had never read anything about this time period, and was looking forward to reading a book from an Incan point of view. Waman is unique since he understands Incan culture, yet is forced to live with the Spaniards (even visit Spain) and translate for people he loathes who are killing his homeland.
From the little I know of Pizarro’s conquest the book followed the events and painted a historically accurate picture, but there was something missing. The book covers the events of over a decade, yet all the death, disease and fighting seems to be a blur. Since Waman is with the conquerors most of the time we only know what is going on in the immediate area and hear reports of the happenings elsewhere. I think having the story of an ordinary citizen of the capital or one of the larger cities as well as Waman’s would have been helpful in making the story read a little more like fiction than history. While I enjoyed it, and am glad I read it, I would only recommend it for big fans of historical fiction.