Arrows of Desire

It’s the last day of Quiltbag Historicals’ giveaway of queer historical fiction books. Prize drawn tomorrow: enter here.

For the Twelfth Day of Christmas I am set the theme ‘Drummers drumming’. Here’s a musical interlude from the battle of Tolgoyn Balgas.

As for fuel, that they found, inexhaustibly, in their war music. Those on spell didn’t sleep – they were orchestra and choir, and if the Hirai royal ordo slept that night they did so to Tartary ballads, lays and odes, to lutes and bone-flutes and curly bugles and drums. Now this, Temujin knew, to fight to music, harked back to Tiriet and Zubu, their true barbarian days.

[two nonstop days of battle later]

At dusk that day, after the constant minstrelsy of the Tartar army, the Ba’atud tried their hand at a song.

They had now no quarter from which to hope for aid. They knew they were alone.

The nagoras, the great signal drums, beat a halt. There was a tendency to pause for sunrise and sunset and the Tartars didn’t argue a disengagement but leant on their battleaxes. The Jirgin congregated, and Qadaq scaled one of his barricades to stand above them. This was a halt, not a treaty, but nobody shot him in the shoulderblades. Why not? There’d have been trouble from Jirgin. That was Temujin’s excuse too: he didn’t need to provoke a fight. When they began to sing the Tartars suspended their own music, flutes and lutes, and gave them silence for their voices without instrument. Under a transition sky, a torch on the horizon and big crystal stars, Qadaq, arms out for balance, conducted with his sabre. It was a hymn that Temujin had heard in church, but had not heard sung by a tumen of wounded heroes, who hereby made commitment to fight on until the end, although the end be in no doubt.

Bring me my bow of burning gold;
Bring me my arrows of desire;
Bring me my spear; oh clouds unfold,
Bring me my chariot of fire.
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
Where walls of Tolgoyn Balgas stand.

That wasn’t how the hymn concluded in church. The Tartar audience, generously, whooped and whistled, to hear they had yet a way to go to get through the Ba’atud. And graciously, with a very Hirai elegance, Qadaq acknowledged them over his shoulder and swept an arm and bent his head, before he jumped down from his barricade.

As for Temujin, his vitals were wrenched and he wept outright. True, he hadn’t had any sleep for two nights. To his sleep-starved eyes, where Qadaq had waved a sabre, in his other hand he held aloft a tuq, a tuq only by the thinnest tissue of cloud invisible, and that his men saw and sang their hearts out to, in a vow of self-sacrifice. What was its name? What beauty had he wept for?

Its name wasn’t Nilqa. They didn’t fight for him.

That night’s fight, at least to Temujin, who had started to hallucinate, might have been fought in the stars, so close were they, so imminent. They hung over him and he asked them, what ideal do we die for?

In the morning he went to ask Qadaq. People had wondered why he hadn’t. “Talk him round, Temujin.” As if he had arts to talk the stars down from the sky, but he hadn’t. He got nowhere with Qadaq. It didn’t help that he suffered from a bad case of the infirmity he had told Bo’orchu about [he crushes on heroes — Ed.]. He was starry-eyed and swoony, though Qadaq was the one with a forehead split to the bone. What he was meant to tell him? That he was being pig-headed? He was being spectacular. He had won Temujin over with that hymn. Talk him round? He felt more fit to kneel and pour milk on the ground at his feet, as you do in worship of the dead.

Nevertheless he made an effort, and he almost convinced himself. “This has been a valiantly fought battle, Qadaq Ba’atur. But the result has become clear. When that is so, to persevere, that had been admirable, is flagrant waste of lives. Both your men and mine are too valuable to stack on as fuel to a dead fire.”

“I won’t dispute, Tchingis, that the home fires are out, and I’d gladly spare my remnant, on a bottom line of terms. On two clauses only. Can you meet me? Toghrul’s life and dignity of treatment?”

“Of course. Of course. How often do I have to – ? Here.” He plunged his hand in his shirt. “You know what this is. This is his blood.” He kissed the thimble.

“Nilqa’s life and liberty?”

“No.” That came out as from a catapult.

Qadaq nodded. “Like I say. Bottom line.”

He didn’t object that Qadaq despised Nilqa. Qadaq knew he despised Nilqa. “You have oath, I understand. But the dukes who ceded yesterday had oath, and I do not brand them dishonest. Do you?”

The hero wiggled the end of his nose on the rear of his wrist. “They weren’t on duty.”

Even so, he didn’t swoon; he stood in energetic contradiction. “Is he to go scot-free? As if his crimes aren’t crimes? – that men like you, Qadaq, have no yardstick to be measured by. In the winter Hirai and Mongol were friends. From the butchery on Evil Undur, to the throats I had to slit to get here undetected – every person slain on either side this spring – his fault.”

“That seems to be a no from me and a no from you.”

Indeed. He hadn’t quite asked his question. By what name do you call your tuq, your tuq of the spirit that I glimpsed in your hand? He was too shy. Instead – “Before I go, baghatur. On the first day of our combat, in memory of his late anda’s friendship with you, Jurchedei swore to stand and watch while you live and fight. So he does. He confesses to me you’ve run him ragged even though his part isn’t strenuous.”

On this Qadaq took a moment or two, and screwed up his eyes to see into the distance. Temujin caught a chest-heave. “Tell the Chief of Uru’ud from me, I’ll be proud to ask his anda to clasp arms, today, tomorrow. And then have a kip. Oh, and Tchingis.”


“The right man won.”

He had no fortitude to turn away. Like a girl. Qadaq turned away.


I believe this my boldest piece of creative anachronism, and I usually bury it 530 + 440 pages into my trilogy. Today we’re flaunting it. These verses are thinkable for steppe Christians in the late 1100s: an imagery of bows, arrows, spears and chariots are their familiar language; the sky, fire and gold speak to steppe religiosity, while Jerusalem is a misty myth from liturgy. Metaphors, extended metaphors, even metaphysical-style conceits are found in the poetry of the Secret History of the Mongols [see my blog post ‘Milk in his veins’: Mongol slang].

William Napier decided Blake’s Proverbs of Hell had previously been bilig of Attila (bilig: a steppe word, ‘wise sayings’) [Attila Trilogy Two]. The wonderful Julian Rathbone has his inventive Quint quote lines from Yeats’ Byzantium poems while in that city circa 1066 [The Last English King].

I admit I’m enthralled by such creative acts of anachronism — a different animal than the inadvertent anachronism that’s made the a-word dirty in historical fiction circles. If, to portray Attila as an original mind with a reverence for energy, you assign him the philosophy of Blake (‘exuberance is beauty’; ‘the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom’; ‘the tygers of wrath are greater than the horses of instruction’), I’ll follow you, and I appreciate the cheek.

Nothing less than the hymn ‘Jerusalem’ was called for, I thought, at the last stand of the Jirgin Ba’atud (a steppe word: heroes), as they dedicate themselves to an ideal that Tchingis cannot quite grasp but sees as a visionary tuq (steppe word: a banner with horse or yak hair, invested with spirit).

Merry Geese

Merry festival of your choice!  Here we’re celebrating the Quiltbag Historicals Bleak Midwinter Funfest, where authors post for the Twelve Days of Christmas and club together in a giveaway. It may be the height of summer where I am in Australia, but our element is imagination, right? 

Quiltbag Historicals is the funnest Facebook group I belong to. An inclusive queer historical fiction group for readers, writers and historians. Join us, and extend the discussion of LGBTQIA+ lives in history. 

I’m to make merry with the Sixth Day of Christmas theme, ‘Geese laying’.
Well, Jamuqa has a thing or two to tell us about that. 

Geese 1: excerpt from Against Walls

He hadn’t meant to be in love with Temujin. It was a bad idea, and he was pretty short with himself on the matter. For a few months.

Because he didn’t gouge out his horses’ testicles, people alleged to him, “It’s crueller to let him keep them on. Won’t get a chance to use them.”

“Ask the horse,” Jamuqa answered, every time.

“He lives in hope?”

“Whether or not… he lives.”

Jamuqa found he lived, in a way he hadn’t known about before, and he ceased to fight his love, futile or not.

Anyhow, animals aren’t without ways and means; if they have to hump logs, that’s what they do. They do a lot else, too. See, what an animal enjoys, can’t be wrong. That’s a twist of the brain that can never make sense to an animal.

The wild sheep, they’re pragmatic. For eleven months of the year the ewes are off the boil; for eleven months of the year, argali rams in the mountains keep the fires stoked amongst themselves. Down on the steppe, she-hedgehogs nuzzle each other’s pink bits and squeak and shake, a sight notorious enough that if you wish to talk about such behaviour, you can say do the hedgehog. It’s thought harmless, whereas you don’t say do the argali, because what argali do is a crime.

Now and then ganders couple up, for life as is the goosely way, and while a gander with a goose does his triumph-strut alone, gander couples honk and triumph side by side, synchronized. They even, when they have the urge, rear eggs, either abandoned eggs or fathered in a short liaison or else hijacked, and they tend to be top of the goose-pile, since both are gander-strong. And the other geese don’t blink. They don’t clack-clack in gossip, they don’t drive them from the nest grounds.

People, pretty unfortunately from Jamuqa’s perspective, weren’t geese. He’d be a goose in his next life, and in this one, he supposed, he’d be discreet.


Jamuqa, aged twenty in this excerpt, remains a great animal-watcher through his life. The animal behaviour that helps him understand his sexuality can all be found in Bruce Bagemihl’s Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity.

In our second excerpt Temujin, now Tchingis Khan, shoves geese down the throat of his First Companion Bo’orchu, when the army have nothing else left to eat. This is a bleak spring… 

Geese 2: excerpt from Imaginary Kings

“For the trek ahead of us, what I regret more than our empty satchels is our lack of felt shelter. Our wounded are unsheltered and have hard travel. The most I can do is ask our sound to spare coats or cloaks for those less fortunate. An extra coat might save a life.”

At his arm Bo’orchu wrenched off his coat.

Guyildar, without jest or bravado, took on himself to answer for the wounded. “Not an awful lot of difference to us. You sit on a horse; you sit on the ground. You know. It isn’t a lark either way. Distracts you to be doing. That’s why I’m such a pain.”

“You’ll take my coat,” Jurchedei told him, “for the duration and without bother. Tchingis said.”

“Smelly old thing, your coat. I’ll have it, if when this is over I can burn it.”

“You can do what you like.”


To go without a coat in the desert spring wasn’t a trivial matter. By his smarts in the wind and his gnawed bones in the frost Temujin knew what he had asked of his sound and imagined what his wounded endured, with their heads huddled in their comrades’ coats. The general purpose grease they had they saved for their faces; people were smeared in grease-masks thick with grit, and they wore a bandage over their eyes, or the ear-flap of a fur hat, the ear on the side away from the wind. The spring wind was God’s own weather, almighty, the air a haze of dirt and salt and sand, the light dim. Your head ached to windward, your ear rang until you were deaf on the left, your mouth felt gritty and smothered. Temujin’s hands and wrists, neck and throat, were stung raw. He thought of when he was a boy, when they had never enough skins and furs, so that he clad himself in grease where he was naked.

Only the zak clung on, when the wormwood was torn out by the roots and turned to tumbleweed. At night the gnarly, knotty skeletons of zak stood the blasts for them. Where zak grew they dug for water. Zak was camel food, but their horses weren’t above camel food and devoured the branches that sheltered them; the wood, uncuttable yet crumbly, had veins of juice. Lastly, in clumps of zak was a perpetual squeak and peep of hedgehog and of hamster. “It isn’t the fact he’s a rat, at bottom,” said Qorchi of Free Baharin as he exchanged gazes with a squeaky hamster in the cage of his fingers. “But he’s too cute to eat. Almost,” he amended.

The great spring flights of birds began, high overhead, a feat and effort in the gales. Now and then a dead bird dropped out of the sky. Temujin’s army watched them with sympathy. A Mongol feels vaguely unholy to kill a bird, a winged creature with the freedom of Tangr’s sky, an image of the soul. A shaman has his bo’orchu, a bird, that is his right hand; you don’t want to harm a bo’orchu by mistake. Aside from these scruples, animals on trek cannot be hunted, who have toil enough. If only Hirai and Tartars extended that clemency to his army.

Temujin said, “Bodonjar did. In the winter he kept himself alive on leftovers from the wolves’ feasts, and in spring he unleashed his falcon in the cyclones of spring birds. His is meant for a tale of hard survival, but we have a tale of that. I won’t starve our wounded amidst a million birds.”

In the Uriangqot custom they wept before they ate. Men sat with a limp goose in their laps, stroked the sleek contours and stretched out the magical mechanics of the wings, until they felt sincerely sorry or drew actual tears; whereupon they thought permissible to pluck it and spit it on a stick.

“How do you like goose?” Temujin asked Bo’orchu.

For a dad his friend had had Naqu the Rich, who never discussed geese the way Yesugei once did with Temujin. He answered, “I like goose, for fear of fish.”

“Fish isn’t so bad.”

“Pah. Fish is wet. Slimy, scaly and wet, and for dinner tomorrow, I dare say.”

“Over a bird and a fish did I feud with my brother.”

“Don’t give me Bodonjar again. I know Bodonjar backwards.”

“His descendants are the Borjigin clan. It means Those Who Lived on Wild Fowl. Why do we boast about his time of misfortune? Because of his time of triumph. He must be the Mongols’ example. – These are my father’s very sentences. Funny, I have forgotten nothing he said to me on his last journey.”

“When I met you,” Bo’orchu told him, “you were a scarecrow. As grey as a fish, and skinny as a wet rat. Distinct kinship to Badai over there.”

“Badai gobbles up his goose and he starts to thrive, after the brown water he had for his hire from my cousin.”

“Yes, yes. See?” Bo’orchu popped goose into his mouth and chewed noisily. His hand was ground and pitted with the sand. On that skin he had the driven sleet. It got near to agony.

“Bo’orchu.” On instinct Temujin’s arms went about him to shelter him.


“Nothing. My first.”

“First and last.” He popped in more goose.

The ones without coats used the fat of the geese on the outside along with the inside. Temujin and Bo’orchu rubbed the ointment and the insulation into each other’s windburnt skin.


My Amgalant series starts with Against Walls. Oh look — geese in the book description!

Universal buy link

I’ll see you again on the 6th of January for the Twelfth Day and ‘Drummers drumming’… in which the Tartar army sings a strangely familiar hymn.

On the 7th, our prize is drawn. An ebook of Against Walls is in the bundle.


A recommendation

Port Royal coverThis is simply a recommendation, for a novel that has nothing to do with the usual subject of this blog. But I also like to support indie publishing.

I read Port Royal in May 2012, and it’s been a highlight of my historical fiction explorations over the past couple of years. Trad authors, famous authors, dead authors have had trouble to beat this one. I’d line it up for historical fiction prizes, and vote for it over Hilary Mantel. That’s how I feel, and this is a challenge to you to try the first few pages. Because the first page screamed the book’s quality to me.

Here’s a link to my review on Goodreads.

Interview with John Caviglia

Arauco cover“Outside perspectives dismantle the complacent inbuilt bias of cultures, and this dismantlement is at the heart of my novel.”

I haven’t done an interview on the blog before, but I took nerve in hand and asked John Caviglia, author of Arauco. I thought Arauco a spectacular book. It stands for me alongside Robert Polevoi’s Port Royal as a major work of historical fiction, independently published. I expect them both to be alive in fifty years (the books not the authors — sorry), in the faith that originality lasts. Ebooks, as we know, last forever; I hope so does major work, even in these new times of trad and indie.

Here’s the interview. My questions, his answers. Links at the bottom, if you first need an acquaintance with the novel.


Arauco gives equal story time to the Spanish and the Mapuche. Was that the way you determined to tell the story, from inception? Do you feel equal-time isn’t often done?

Loving historical novels as I do, and having been born in Chile, when I finally got around to researching a novel I chose Inés de Suárez as the starting point (long story in itself)….  Without knowing it, I had discovered something like a magician’s hat….  Pulling on that first handkerchief, I found it attached to another—Pedro de Valdivia.  To that was knotted his enterprise.   I kept pulling—the entire emergence fascinating …  eventually taking me to Valdivia’s death and the catastrophic defeat of the Spanish by the Mapuche at the battle of Tucapel.  This, when Cortez and Pizarro had conquered empires with paltry handfuls of men!  It was time to rethink the book and I became fascinated by the fact that no accounting of the Spanish invasion included the Mapuche perspective.  So—as I knew almost absolutely nothing about the indigenous people of Chile—I dipped again into that magician’s hat….  When I actually began to write (still researching), my plan from the outset was to devote equal time to both Spanish and Mapuche, though the pressures of storytelling created an evolution in that decision….

Equal-time is seldom done, I think, when both cultures and languages are foreign to the reader, and especially when the novel is set in a different era.  So much has to be explained or glossed, simply left out or left to the imagination.  Also, in my novel, the landscape, the fauna and flora, are unfamiliar to most readers of English. This is the main reason Arauco is so long.  In my blog,, I supplement the novel with image and explanation, that the reader may better see and understand the time and place, and the Mapuche.

What made you choose your main point-of-view characters on each side? I thought your leads more or less unusual choices. For instance, the Mapuche we are most intimate with may be called outcasts.  While Juan was idealistic for a conquistador.

Let’s just think of the main point-of-view characters in Arauco as having outside points of view, the outsider as narrator being an old chestnut of a literary convention (Think of Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, in which two visiting Persians attempt to understand 18th century France).  Outside perspectives dismantle the complacent inbuilt bias of cultures, and this dismantlement is at the heart of my novel.  So, take “equal time” in Arauco to mean that the Spanish and Mapuche cultures are being equally examined from outside by the main characters of the other culture.  This interactive inquisition defines the relationship of Juan and Raytrayen, and the difficulty of their love.

Now, in my novel (as in most societies) almost all the characters lead lives largely unexamined—accepting the ‘roles’ in the drama given them by their time and culture.  Thus, Pedro de Valdivia and his minions are embarked upon an enterprise in which horse, armor and sword will wrest gold and land from people they have no real interest in.  Valdivia wants to conquer, not understand them.  As for Lautaro and the Mapuche he led to war against the Spanish, ditto—no real interest, save as how to fight the invaders better.  What I needed were characters enough at the “edge” of their culture—outsiders, if you will—to be at least curious about difference.  There is a fascinating book by Mary Douglas—Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo—that long ago changed the way I looked at societies.  From MD, I derived the notion that cultures have “edges,” and that there, in being different, lies the power given those such as Ñamku.  And—though it’s been decades since I read MD—it makes sense to me that the “hearts” of very different cultures can only fight each other—so that whatever meeting there is to be must happen at the periphery.

I chose Ñamku as a principal character  because shamanism has always fascinated me.  Also, if you examine the Mapuche culture of the time, there was scant choice for a male—you were a warrior, unless something different in you made you shaman—and I needed more than just a warrior’s simple hate as  perspective.  I made Ñamku albino to give him curiosity about the invaders, creating at least the illusion of kinship with them.  Also, to have him yearn for contact.

As for Juan de Cardeña, he was an ‘outsider’ in being educated, a literate conquistador being something of an oxymoron.  As secretary to Valdivia, he was also largely outside the action, observing, sometimes quite literally recording it.  Also, he was privy to Valdivia’s intentions, and very interestingly close to Inés de Suárez (which made it possible to embed the novel I initially thought to write within a larger novel).  And finally, one of the things I wanted to include in Arauco was the astonishing intellectual ferment of the time, which made the invasion of the Americas what it was—so I chose a lettered man as my lead.  And being educated at that time in Spain—as Cervantes wonderfully and ironically illustrates with Don Quijote—was likely to make you idealistic.

Did you have a soft spot for Inés de Suárez, the historical/your fictional woman? Or do you believe a novelist ought to be more objective than Henry Fielding who confesses to us his own love for Sophia in Tom Jones? Any thoughts on putting a personality into a once-alive figure from the historical records?

In my novel it is Juan that has a “soft spot” for Inés de Suárez.  And it’s due to his perspective that she is presented as she is in the novel, “romantically”—and by this I mean as a character colored by the fictions (the romances) Juan projects upon her.  Personally, I see her as a strong, complex and very unusual woman, but still defined by her bloody time and place.

When so few actual facts have been recorded about the historical characters you write about, true objectivity is ultimately impossible, for it would mean knowing what once existed in the blanks you fill.   What I attempted in Arauco with all the actual historical characters, both Spanish and Mapuche is a kind of evenhandedness, not demonizing or ensainting….

One of my heroes, Pablo Neruda, loathed Inés de Suárez.  In his poem, Valdivia, which poetically recounts the founding of Chile, this is what he says about her:

soaked by entrails, screaming,
Inés de Suárez, soldier,
supported the imperial necks
with the knees of an infernal harpy.
And she threw them over the palisade,
bathing herself in noble blood.

 He is of course referring to the beheading of the six captive Mapuche caciques during the battle of Santiago, and the hurling of their heads over the city’s palisade to “discourage” the attackers (an act I ‘tiptoe around’ in the novel).   So yes, I gave Inés de Suárez far more latitude than Neruda does, and maybe more latitude than strict objectivity would require … but then, again, for Juan’s sake.

Ultimately, if “soft spot” means filling in the blanks that History leaves in your characters with good, rather than bad or questionable, then Juan de Cardeña—about whom nothing as an actual human being was recorded—is the ‘softest’ cake that I confected.  Chances are excellent that I took a somewhat literate conquistador, brutal as almost every other, and made something richer, deeper and gentler of him.

You have ghastly events to write about. I think I can tell you put a lot of thought into ways to present them. Can you share a few thoughts on how a novelist might write about horrible histories?

War is the axle about which the wheel of Arauco spins—whatever happens on that war’s periphery—and war is never other than brutal and ghastly.  As Tostoy writes, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.  Just so, every war is differently ghastly.  What I attempted to do is be a ‘fly on the wall’ at this particular time and place, attempting to record the conflict of Spaniards and Mapuche as it was.  Also, the conquistadores were themselves never far from civil war, if not actually engaging in it.  This also I record, for that is what was happening, then and there.  The horror came with the ‘territory.’   Horrible histories should be written as they were, in my opinion.

My personal, fictional, answer to history’s horrors was to have wonderful things happening at war’s edge, and of course I have Juan flee war, across the Andes, at the end.  I wish him well.

How did you research Mapuche shamans? What about your choices, in creation of your shamans’ mental/spiritual world?

I began to research Arauco before there was an internet, but read absolutely everything about the Mapuche available to me at the time (thanks be, for the Library of Congress!).   And in reading about Mapuche, one cannot help but repeatedly bump up against shamans and sorcerers, both being so important to their culture.  According to traditional Mapuche lore, by and large human illness, and many things that go wrong with your animals or crops are due to sorcery of various kinds.  So, if you want somebody sick, you hire a sorcerer.  Conversely, if you want that sorcery cancelled, you hire a machi—a shaman—and so it goes….  Most of my information about machi derived from anthropological studies.  I learned a lot from the works of Inez Hilger, done in the sixties.  More recently, in 1997, Ana Mariella Bacigalupo published a fascinating work devoted specifically to Mapuche shamanism—Shamans of the Foye Tree: Gender, Power and Healing among Chilean Mapuche.  If that study had been around when I began to write Arauco, the novel would have been a different thing.

Also, I should mention that I did research not just into shamanism among the Mapuche, but in greater Latin America.  This led me to the ritual use of datura stramonium, which is widespread—and the visions of the shamans in the novel follow the characteristic course of that psychoactive plant.  Interestingly, this was a time in which visions were also happening in Spain.  St. Teresa of Avila was Juan de Cardeña’s contemporary.

How much time have you devoted to the novel? Who or what helped with your labours?

From inception to publication the novel took about three decades (though much of that time was spent on back burners).  Through it all my wife, Barbara—who has the patience of angels—provided unfailing support and lucid, ongoing feedback.  She also helped with research, which came to include such things as sleeping among chickens in a Mapuche campground in Chile, where a traditional ruka—a Mapuche dwelling—was being built.  My brother, Mario, read all three drafts—the first being over a thousand pages, typescript—and his comments resulted in a great improvement and shortening of the novel.  And finally, a wonderful book group my wife belongs to, the Sisters in Reading, which definitely does not read FLUFF, was gracious enough to be a focus group for the penultimate draft.  I am honored to be the only male ever physically admitted to their conclave.

Who are your writing heroes? And, if these differ, are there writers who fed you for the book?

In my adolescence I must have read every historical novel in the Carnegie Library of Crawfordsville, Indiana (which took time, but was doable).  My heroes then were such authors as Robert Graves, Rafael Sabatini, Walter Scott, Alexandre Dumas….  To them I owe my abiding love of literature eloquently transporting one through time and space.

As one born in Chile and brought up in the United States, I owe to Pablo Neruda—whom I read later in life—the realization that one never leaves the place where one was born.  With him I also share a love of the land going back to times before history.  And I admire him as a man who had principles, and never, ever, compromised them.   I just read a wonderful biography by Marie Arana of Simón Bolivar, who liberated much of Latin America from Spain, and one of the things that struck me about his short and brilliant career, is how much he had to violate his beliefs to get done what he believed in.  Neruda chose exile over compromise, but his poetry never left Chile.

What’s next?

Far as novels go, I’m thinking of doing another set in Chile.  No title.  No plot.  No anything yet, except the idea of including the infamous Latin American/Nazi connection.  There’s a fascinating Chilean called Miguel Serrano, who was an acquaintance of Herman Hesse and C. G. Jung, and became one of the foremost figures in contemporary Nazi “philosophy,” propounding what he called “esoteric Hitlerism….”

Hmmm … far as time and place….  My mother intended to study in France after college, but WWII was breaking out, so she went to study in Chile instead, and arrived to find Valparaíso, and its university, totally destroyed by an earthquake.  She traveled down by ship of course, and many of her fellow passengers (according to her letters) were Jews fleeing Europe.  Powerful stuff.  And then of course, Nazis fled to SA not so many years later….  Am in the research stage right now.  Being retired, I may be able to get it done in fewer than thirty years and still live a life on the side.


Arauco: A Novel

Paperback, 698 pages
Published November 28th 2012 by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Kindle Edition, 698 pages
Published February 9th 2013 by Kindle Direct Publishing

John Caviglia’s website

Goodreads author page

My review of Arauco on Goodreads

End comment from Bryn
I’m glad I asked the questions. I already have Shamans of the Foye Tree and must explore Purity and Danger. I’ve found out that my third novel — the clashes in my third novel — is almost entirely about frontiers (Genghis only fought, you know, where steppe and sown had interpenetrated. The rest came after his lifetime). So John on the “edges of cultures” is valuable to me. Mind I’ve always been one of those who read books like The Outsider