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‘Last Days’ a must-read on Peru

5 Dec

If I had time to only read one book before traveling to Peru, “The Last Days of the Incas” would be a wise choice. Kim MacQuarrie’s riveting account of the Incas’ subjugation by the conquistadors and their fight to reclaim their country is both fascinating and heartbreaking.

This isn’t the whitewashed history of junior high textbooks. It lays bare the brutal tactics of the Spanish “explorers,” whose lust for gold caused untold harm. The invaders — led by Francisco Pizarro — claimed they came in peace yet left murder and mayhem everywhere.

Finally, fed up with the Spaniards’ capricious cruelty, a young Inca emperor led a rebellion that almost broke the Spaniards’ hold on the country. Ultimately, the uprising failed because the Incas were outgunned. Besides the battles, MacQuarrie describes in vivid detail the Incas’ society and architectural feats, and he ties up the loose ends of history about the lost cities of Machu Picchu and Vilcabamba — and their “rediscovery” by archeological conquistadors in the last century.

As I finished the book, I was left with the thought that even though the weapons have changed — leveraged buyouts instead of razor-sharp swords — that the conquistadors have a counterpart in our time: corporate raiders. They take what doesn’t belong to them and destroy lives in the process. It left me wondering if someday in the future that a similar book will be written about America’s conquistadors in the canyons of Wall Street instead of the Andes.

It’s a good, eye-opening read, and it made me want to know more about Peru’s marvels and its sad place in history.

Sharon S. Kessler

You could order this book from somewhere other than amazon.com for $16.95.

After you’ve read it — or any other book on Peru — please write your own review, in the Comments section below.

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An Andes isla forgotten/trapped by time

12 Nov

On Jan. 14, 2012, our ArtAndes group is scheduled to spend a full day on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the Americas at 12,500 feet above “sea” level. We’ll visit the Uros floating islands of reeds and Taquile Island, home to about 3,000 indigenous people who still live without cars or electricity, to say nothing of the Internet. I can’t imagine a better introduction to Taquile Island than the 2004 book that Equipo Peru teammate Brita Dallmann passed on to me from UWEC’s library, “Weaving a Future: Touring, Cloth & Culture on an Andean Island,” by Elayne Zorn, an anthropologist at the University of Central Florida.Google Map locating Taquile Island in Lake Titicaca, Peru

Though the book includes nearly 80 pages of academic notes and references, Zorn writes the 163 pages of text in accessible, empathetic, compassionate tones, not anthropological. Recounting the many Taquile Island visits and friendships she has made from 1975 to 2002, Zorn insightfully describes the differences that tourism has made on the gentle Taquileans. Whereas in 1975, when most of them wove with alpaca wool they made into vests, hats and belts for their own everyday wear, by 2002, most sought to cater to tourists in restaurants on the island, on boats that commuted the 90 minutes to Puno or by weaving synthetic yarn into souvenirs. Still, other indigenous communities consider the Taquileans a model, because they have mostly succeeded in taming tourism. They have resisted all attempts to build hotels on the island, preferring to house tourists in their homes, and they have used the income to open a high school and increase their numbers who speak and read Spanish along with their native Quechua.

“Taquile has been at the forefront,” Zorn concludes, “of efforts to try to weave a future that provides them the benefits of development while minimizing the costs.”

* The Peru Guide’s Taquile Island page

Add this to your reading list!

19 Oct

This summer I took the time to read a new book about Machu Picchu entitled “Turn Right at Machu Picchu” by Mark Adams.  Although non-fiction, the book reads like a novel and is filled with cultural tidbits that made me even more eager to visit Peru.

The Washington Post produced a great review of the book, along with a summary so that you can get a good idea of what the book is about.

Also, the author did an interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, which is how I came to know about his book in the first place.  Enjoy!

-Brita

After you’ve read this book- or possibly another book about Machu Picchu- feel free to write your own review in the Comments section below.