Pachacuti: World Overturned
As the Spanish empire faded throughout South America, the parting was not peaceful. Through the 18th and 19th centuries, revolts happened as people rose up and fought against the power over them. This is the setting of Pachacuti. It is the story of three people and their views of the events that happen between the years of 1766-1767. Santiago Huaman is the Indian overseer of a nearby hacienda. Caught between the world of the natives, and his duties to the plantation, he is initially torn, but comes to use his position in-between to become a yachac, a medicine man. For Gregorio Moncada, inquisitor for the Jesuits, it is a time of spiritual trial. He is drawn to the young Ana Alfaro, a non-believer even if he weren’t sworn to chastity.
It is Ana who is my favorite character. She is literally in the center of things, sitting in on the planning meetings between the various factions of the revolution, watching, listening, yet kept separate and powerless by her gender. She is a proxy for us, the reader… able to watch and hear and think, yet unable to stop or influence the flow of events.
This multiple-character viewpoint sometimes strikes a sour note, such as in the very first chapters, where Santiago sees the first failed revolution, and ends up mistaken for one of the landowners. The next chapter is Ana watching the meeting of the Indians, Mulatos, and Creoles planning to strike. It is a tense meeting, but one that sheds light on why the revolt in the previous chapter failed. Telling the same events from multiple viewpoints makes for a marvelously detailed story, but one that lags in places because of it. This book takes its time with events, letting them unfurl like the long, slow equatorial days.
Eshleman has a PhD in Art History, and uses her knowledge to paint an elaborate picture of life in the 18th century Spanish colonies. The art, beliefs, and lives of the people spring from the pages. You can almost smell the dust from the streets, and the oranges growing. The taste of sweetcakes, and the sharp bite of chicha. The native color and the stark beauty inside the church. The sounds of the market as they gossip and dicker in Spanish and Quichua…
Pachacuti is a gloriously written book that brings the mix of cultures in a small city in the heart of South America alive. Marvelously detailed, with characters that are endlessly torn between their people, their pasts, and their obligations. It is perfect reading for a long, slow rainy day, where you can take your time and revel in the texture and color that has been set out for you.