Tue September 11, 2012
Book Review: 'God Carlos'
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block. Now to the 16th Century and the Spanish port of Cadiz. It's the setting for "God Carlos," a new novel by Jamaican-born writer Anthony Winkler, who takes us on a voyage to the New World. Alan Cheuse has this review.
ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: The Carlos of the title of this gusty, boisterous, entertaining and, by my life, X-rated slice of historical fiction, is a barely literate, itinerant 25-year-old Spanish sailor - his full name being Carlos Antonio Maria Eduardo Garcia de Cal Fernandez. Carlos, between voyages in Cadiz, Spain, spends his last few coins on a prostitute, the scene of which gives the novel, as I see it, the X-rating, and he signs on for a voyage to a newly established Spanish port in Jamaica.
He's a naive if affable young man and tries to make friends among the crew. But his egoistical fantasy of playing God to the New World Indians wins him the enmity of another sailor whom he kills in a knife fight. Carlos' fantasy of Godhead doesn't die, it only becomes more inflamed once they reach the Caribbean island where Christopher Columbus had briefly put down his anchor.
In scenes of a mixture of pride, madness and comedy, he plays out his role as deity among the naked islanders - bullying the Indian men, raping the women at will and living a fantasy that most readers will find believable, if horrific. Along with the horror, the book does offer some beautiful moments of discovery, as when, as Winkler narrates, the ship takes the Mona Passage to Jamaica instead of the barren emptiness of deep sea, the coastline, we hear of an Edenic island, green and aromatic, opened like a wildflower. For all of its scenes of braggadocio and brutality, the book often works on you like that vision.
BLOCK: The book is "God Carlos," written by Anthony Winkler and reviewed by our own Alan Cheuse. His latest book is called "Paradise." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.