Journeys into the New World
Jay Prasad, in Journeys into the New World, very effectively uses a few different, converging narrative devices in support of one main goal: to knock Christopher Columbus off the pedestal on which history has persistently placed him.
Part of the novel is set in Columbus’s own day, in the Spain of Ferdinand and Isabella, where the Inquisition’s crusade against Marranos, converted Jews, is convulsing the kingdom – and where Columbus’s dream of sailing west to find the Far East is met with some harsh criticism. “You are wrong, Senor Colon,” he is told at one point, “They say the distance is ten thousand miles, four times your estimate. This means it will take you twenty-four weeks to get there. Fresh water will be undrinkable after six weeks, and you and your crew will die of thirst”.
He perseveres, and his voyages, rapacity, greed, and downfall are dramatically conveyed for the bulk of the novel, all recorded by a family of Marranos who are not exactly his biggest fans.
Part of the novel also takes place in the present, and gives readers a DaVinci Code-style plot-line involving an old manuscript with explosive implications – a plot that feels a bit tacked-on and one without which the novel would probably have been stronger. Even so, the evocations of Catholic Imperial Spain are well-done, and the portrait of Columbus is as memorable as it is unflattering.