After 525 years, the traditional literature recounting the history of Columbus's epic voyage and first encounters with Native Americans remains Eurocentric, focused principally--whether pro- or anti-Columbus--on Columbus and the European perspective. A historical novel, Encounters Unforeseen: 1492 Retold now dramatizes these events from a bicultural perspective, fictionalizing the beliefs, thoughts, and actions of the Native Americans who met Columbus side by side with those of Columbus and other Europeans, all based on a close reading of Columbus's Journal, other primary sources, and anthropological studies.
The drama alternates among three historic Taíno chieftains--Caonabó, Guacanagarí, and Guarionex--and a Taíno youth Columbus captures, Spain's Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, and Columbus himself. It depicts the education, loves and marriages, and other life experiences each brought to the unforeseen encounters and then their astonishment, fears, and objectives in 1492 and 1493. The focus includes the Taíno "discovery" of Europe, when Columbus hauls the captive and other Taínos back to Spain, as well as the chieftains' reactions to the abusive garrison of seamen Columbus leaves behind in the Caribbean. Throughout, the Taíno protagonists are neither merely victims nor statistics, but personalities and actors comparable to the European, and their side of the story is forcefully told.
The novel weaves a fascinating tapestry of scenes and dialogues from the historical record, often incorporating text from primary sources. Isabella plots her dynastic marriage, argues with Ferdinand over who's supreme, and wages war to expand their kingdoms. The chieftains take multiple wives to consolidate their rules, vie to marry the beautiful Anacaona, and battle Caribe raiders. An unknown Columbus conceives a fanciful voyage, marries advantageously to promote it, and yet suffers an agonizing decade of ridicule and rejection. Guacanagarí rescues Columbus when the Santa María sinks, but Caonabó questions Guacanagarí's generosity, and Guarionex is vexed, having witnessed a religious prophecy of Taíno genocide inflicted by a "clothed people." Columbus teaches his captive Christianity, initiating the following centuries' collision of Christianity with Native American religion and spirits.
The Taíno stories depict both events known to have occurred (e.g., the chieftains' ascensions to power, the prophecy of genocide, the captive's baptism in Spain) and known practices or experiences (e.g., inter-island canoe travel, a hurricane, a Caribe wife raid, a batey game). The Isabella and Ferdinand stories include their establishment of the Inquisition, subjugation and Christianization of the Canary Islands, completion of the Reconquista, and expulsion of the Jews from Spain, illustrating European doctrines of conquest, enslavement, and involuntary conversion and how the sovereigns ruled over Old World peoples before encountering Native Americans. The Columbus stories portray his pre-1492 sailing experiences and the evolution of his world outlook, and his thoughts during the encounters embody the concepts underlying the European subjugation of Native Americans over the following centuries. Stark societal differences are illustrated, with the Europeans practicing African slavery and the Taínos sharing food as communal property.
A Sources section briefly discusses interpretations of historians and anthropologists contrary to the author's presentation, as well as issues of academic disagreement.
The result is a gripping, personal, documented, and bicultural portrayal of the voyage that reshaped the course of world history, written at its 525th anniversary.
"Rowen's research...is nothing less than breathtaking. The sensitivity and originality of his portrayals are equally impressive, avoiding the trap of simply retelling a familiar tale from an exclusively European perspective or casting the explorers as nothing more than rapacious colonialists....the tale intelligently captures the religious impulse behind Columbus' adventure...A remarkably new and inventive take on a momentous episode in the 15th century."--Kirkus Reviews
..".spellbinding...Few authors recreate historical worlds and craft characters who feel so real...I particularly enjoyed the way the soul of the Native Americans comes across the narrative. The characters are intriguing, each reflecting a rich culture and a historical background that will excite the reader."--Readers' Favorite Five Star Review
"An impressively crafted work of riveting fiction from beginning to end, author Andrew Rowen has firmly grounded his truly exceptional novel in historical fact. The result is nothing less than a literary masterpiece that is as deftly complex as it is consistently entertaining."--Midwest Book Review
..".a fascinating story of enmeshed lives, and the consequences of new worlds....written with scrupulous detail to historical accuracy..."--William F. Keegan, Curator of Caribbean Archaeology, Florida Museum of Natural History, Talking Taíno, Taíno Indian Myth and Practice
"A must read book for American history, European history, and Native American history! The author, Andrew Rowen has delivered an epic historical account...I can easily see this book becoming required reading in many educational settings....The readers are going to be talking about this book for decades to come!"--Book Review Crew, Authors on the Air
"Amazing! The lives, loves, victories and defeats of the Taíno Indians are just as meticulously and poignantly brought to life as Columbus, his famous voyage and Queen Isabel's court. A sprawling, globe-trotting, all-consuming tour de force illuminating all sides of the epic cultural clash that created the New World."--Trey Ellis, Platitudes, Home Repairs, Right Here, Right Now
"The story of Europe's first encounters with the Americas has become so fraught and tortured that most people now avoid it, which is a shame, because it is so historically important. With Encounters Unforeseen, this fascinating story becomes human and real. Andrew Rowen has produced a remarkable work - beautifully written, well researched and necessary. A landmark!"--Warren Kozak, LeMay: The Life and Wars of General Curtis LeMay
"An extraordinary combination of scholarship and imagination, Andrew Rowen's Encounters Unforeseen creates a balanced 15th century world, where Caribbean natives and European explorers meet in a painfully evolving historical adventure."--Bartle Bull, The White Rhino Hotel, A Cafe on the Nile.