What if Latin America Ruled the World? – Oscar Guardiola-Rivera

The strict laws of reciprocity, so ingrained in the soul of the Inca, remained hidden to Pizarro, as they did to Cortes and Columbus before him. In the Capitulaciones, for example, there is no mention of the inhabitants of the land that has been promised in return.  The absence of the Indians on paper is a sign of things to come.  They are expected to be absent from the land and so they will be made absent.

It’s a big question, and it’s asked on the final page, after three hundred odd pages of context framed within economics, history, and a bit more economics.  I’m not sure the question is answered however, maybe it’s not even meant to be, but then again it could have been right in front of me and I would have trudged past without noticing.  I struggled through this book with a determined resignation that I would make it to the end.
When I was about three-quarters of the way through, a friend pointed out that this was a study book.  Ah, of course, it made sense.  You should read this slowly, make notes, look at the events, put everything in it’s context and then think about  what the book was saying, perhaps you should even do that with every book?  I didn’t do it. I barrelled through from beginning to end, well, I tried to.  I gave up trying to understand every line, the economic theories, the conclusions drawn from historical context, and instead took limited knowledge from a paragraph, or where I was particularly dense, a page.

The scope and breadth  of this book is incredible, as Guardiola-Revera places the impact of the discovery, conquering and colonisation of Latin America on the indigenous populations nature-sustaining methods of trading and working, in the broader of context of world economics. Along with an encyclopaedic history for the region the book explains how the southern hemisphere is trying to tear the shackles of economic guidance that the modernised West has foisted upon it, read “ours is the best way to do it, so you will do it”.

There is also a lot of comment, and this is perhaps the most pertinent thrust of the book, about the Latinsation of the US and the impact this will have on not just the US itself, but the world in general.  The growing power of indigenous peoples across Latin America, for example, following the ‘water wars’ in Bolivia that preceded Evo Morales rise to power, to the 2006 political demonstrations in the US for illegal immigrant rights, and how this will influence the US as it becomes more Latino.

Mixed thoroughly in with the dense economic theory is the history of the region, and Guardiola-Rivera extrapolates the impact of specific events on world economics, from the power of the initial trading of pure gold for trinkets, to the Spanish silver peso, the worlds first universal currency.  These were the more interesting parts for me, over and above the economics, even though the closely are ever intertwined.

By the end I had learnt a bit, forgotten a lot and not understood even more than that. There are areas where Latin America is trying to change the one size capitalism fits all philosophy of the West and hopefully it will succeed.  I am the man who knew too little about economics to be able to properly comment about the theory and the context, but barring a radical shift, the time will come when the US becomes the next Latin American country, then maybe they really will rule the world.

One thing I did learn about myself is that I can’t give up on a book, I wanted to put this down and move on. I couldn’t do it.  So a little of self revealed to me at the very least .

History, the long term, does not respond to the imperatives of short-term gains, or to the interests of some, and thus new forms of being in common and collective organisation are required in order to defend the interests of all.  From that perspective, the sacrifices of the many in the interests of a few is unacceptable and therefore it is justified that the many – for instance the working masses of the Americas, both Indian and African – stand up to the interests of the few in the name of the interests of all.

The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene

The dentists operating-room looked out on a yard where a few turkeys moved with shabby nervous pomp: a drill which worked with a pedal, a dentists chair gaudy in bright red plush, a glass cupboard in which instruments were dustily jumbled.

I’m going to say potential spoiler alert here, it’s not blatant, but you can probably work it out if you haven’t read the book or don’t know the ending. Just saying.

Hailed as Greene’s masterpiece, I picked The Power and the Glory to follow up The Honorary Consul as the priest in that is referred to at one point as a whisky priest and so I thought I would follow the reference.

Set during the persecution of the clergy in Mexico, the unnamed whisky priest is on the run, although, perhaps on the meander would be a more appropriate term,  to safety.  However he cannot renounce either his faith or those that ask for his administrations. And despite an aetheist Lieutenant tracking him down remorselessly, he detours and deviates to help those in need, many times at his own cost.

There are other characters that file in and out, including Mr Tench, who seems to be destined for bigger things early on before disappearing for a large swathe of the book and popping up again later on.  The same with the Fellows family, who provide a fleeting trace of life on the river before disappearing even from their own house.

By the end I felt the priest could not have taken any other path, his pride had kept him in harms way, and despite his attempts to run, he never fully committed to it, knowing he had sinned to much to forgive himself, or ask for it for himself, he could not have altered his destiny.  The mestizo, who clearly intends to betray the priest, stirs his compassion and perhaps finally overcomes the weariness of the struggle.
But the Lieutenant seemed much more intriguing.  When he has the priest in jail without realising and sets him free, I was convinced he knew what he was doing, though later on he denies this.  He is driven by a reasoned hatred of religion and of the clergy, yet this hatred does not fully overcome his compassion.  The vehemence in his conversation with the priest at the end was betrayed by the interest in the priests life, an acknowledgement that although he hated everything the priest stood for, he could still separate the cloth from the man.

I’m convinced I missed entire levels of this book, the seemingly random introduction of peripheral characters disorientating me, and I thought maybe at the end they demonstrated the impact of the priest, whose redemption would come from the small good he effected in their lives, but that wasn’t clear to see.

I think I personally prefer The Honorary Consul, I found the characters in that, as well as the storyline much more engaging, but I will no doubt delve into this again and hopefully will find a much more richer experience.

In three days, he told himself, I shall be in Las Casas: I shall have confessed and been absolved, and the thought of the child on the rubbish-heap came automatically back to him with painful love. What was the good of confession when you loved the result of your crime?

The Heroes – Joe Abercrombie

“Ah! Tea! Nothing seems quite as terrible once there is a cup of tea in your hand, eh?  Would anyone else care for some?”
There were no takers.  Tea was generally considered an unpatriotic Gurkish fashion, synonymous with moustache twiddling treachery. “Nobody?”

A raw, salt of the earth epic, The Heroes, of which there seem to be exceedingly few, and even then they are not, in any way, classic, drops you back into the world of the 1st Law Trilogy like a sack of potatoes.  Set over a few days of an attempt by the Union to topple Black Dow from his ill gotten throne of the North, I would almost say The Heroes asks the question if there really are any heroes in war, but the title actually refers to an outcrop of rocks on a hill.  The Heroes though, is filled with a bewildering army of great complex characters playing in a simple scenario.  It’s like Tolkien, but with bollocks.

Prime players include Curnden Craw, an old hand whose knees creak everytime he stands up, Prince Calder, the scheming coward out to regain his fathers crown, the brilliant Bremer Dan Gorst, desperately trying to regain the kings favour, Finree, the ambitious generals daughter and the enigmatic Bayaz, who I’m not sure if it would be safer to have on your side or not.  Abercrombie takes you down to the dirt and chaos of army life and battle, and where there isn’t really good and evil, just two sides fighting over nothing much.

Some characters return from the 1st Law Trilogy, although it’s been so long since I read them that I couldn’t remember many, and there is a nod to Best Served Cold but this is easy enough to read on it’s own. As with Abercrombie’s books, it is not necessarily what is happening, but who it’s happening too that makes The Heroes great, the dialog in particular is as coarse and sharp as the axehead on the cover, and there were many laugh out loud moments, which reminded me in many ways of Terry Pratchett.  Corporal Tunny, one of the best characters in the book, seemed the twin of corporal Nobby Nobs from the Ankh-Morpork watch. Abercrombie certainly has a satirical look at his subjects, but has a lot more grit that the Discworld.

By the end of the final day, there could be some winners, there are certainly a lot of losers, but once you start a life of fighting, can you ever stop?

Red Country, his 6th book is something of a Western apparently, but a further trilogy set in the 1st law world is planned, and I’m looking forward to them already.

For reasons known only to himself he’d taken his shirt off and was standing stripped to his waist – Father of Swords over one shoulder.  “By the dead,” muttered Craw “Every time we fight you’re bloody wearing less.”
Whirrun tipped his head back and blinked into the rain. “I’m not wearing a shirt in this. A wet shirt only chafes my nipples.”
Wonderful shook her head. “All part of the hero’s mystery.”