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Book gems of 2016, Part 4

July 6, 2016

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Summer is upon us, and the season of leisure is the perfect time for new stories, characters, ideas, and adventures. Throughout the next few weeks, Stillness of Heart continues its occasional series of critical recommendations, from Civil War battle histories to memoirs, and from intellectual histories to photobooks almost as beautiful as the natural world they celebrate.

Read Part 1 of this 2016 series here and subsequent essays in this series here.

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on Latin America.

Emily Berquist Soule’s The Bishop’s Utopia: Envisioning Improvement in Colonial Peru (University of Pennsylvania Press, 320 pp., $36) tells the story of an incredible intellectual and scientific endeavor: the Spanish and Indian study of the cultures, botany, agricultural, and topography of northern Peru. Directing the project was Baltasar Jaime Martinez Companon, a Spanish bishop who also added to the collection of specimens a nine-volume series of books filled with images from throughout the region and painted by the Indians themselves. He intended to use the shipment of artwork and specimens to reassure Spanish officials that his part of Peru would be prosperous and peaceful. But for modern scholars, his efforts entrusted to us a snapshot of the era’s scientific understandings, Spanish cultural biases, and Indian artistic talents.

Karoline P. Cook’s Forbidden Passages: Muslims and Moriscos in Colonial Spanish America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 288 pp., $36) is a groundbreaking examination of the symbolic and religious significance of Moriscos — Muslims who converted to Christianity — in imperial Spain and in the Spanish New World. Spain would allow only Christians with long, verifiable Christian lineages to settle in the Spanish territories, but many moriscos secretly made the journey despite the mortal danger. Cook explores how these men and women, some still practicing Islam, introduced their faith to a new world, resisted Spanish persecution, and fought for their religious and political identities in hostile Spanish courtrooms. Cook’s work reminds today’s readers that personal struggles in this land over immigration, one’s place in society, religious freedom, and identity are nothing new, and neither are the moral determinations made to protect and defend those inherent human rights.

David F. Slade’s and Jerry W. Williams’s Lima fundada by Pedro de Peralta Barnuevo (University of North Carolina Press, 648 pp., $85) promises to be a magnificent achievement. In 1732, Peralta, a poet in Spanish Peru, wrote an epic poem that championed the notion that Peru belonged to the Peruvian descendants of Spanish conquerors. It criticized an imperial power structure that advanced the Spanish-born over the Peruvian-born. He considered it one of his greatest works. Since 1732, only fragments of his masterpiece have been republished, but the entire poem was never re-issued … until now, almost three centuries later.

Rafael Rojas’s Fighting over Fidel: The New York Intellectuals and the Cuban Revolution (Princeton University Press, 312 pp., $35, translated by Carl Good) is an incredible analysis of the searing currents of political thought coursing throughout New York City’s intellectual world and of the debate over the Cuban Revolution intensified that thinking. Rojas creates a vibrant swirling galaxy populated by brilliant writers, volatile artists, ambitious politicians, and fevered revolutionaries, all fighting over the ideals and consequences of Cold War ideologies, nationalist dreams, and personal affinities and hatreds.

Jonathan Colman’s The Cuban Missile Crisis: Origins, Course and Aftermath (Oxford University Press, 256 pp., $31.96) promises a definitive history of the Crisis, based on new primary sources and wide-ranging historical research and analysis. In the light of recent developments in U.S.-Cuban relations, Colman’s work arrives at the ideal time for readers and students seeking to understand the tumultuous Cold War and post-Cold War history that casts a long shadow over that relationship and still threatens the hope of so many Americans and Cubans for a brighter future.

Cruz Miguel Ortiz Cuadra’s Eating Puerto Rico: A History of Food, Culture, and Identity (University of North Carolina Press, 408 pp., $27.95) is a classic of Puerto Rican culinary literature. It’s a virtual tour of Puerto Rican history that jumps from one essential food item to another, essentially combining them like ingredients into a complete and savory cultural meal. The framework also enables him to anchor his larger analysis of change over time, specifically how U.S. control of the island transformed how Puerto Ricans gathered, processed, and related to those foods, and what that means to Puerto Rican identity, citizenry, racial status, and economics.

For May 2017
Paulo Drinot’s and Carlos Aguirre’s The Peculiar Revolution: Rethinking the Peruvian Experiment Under Military Rule (University of Texas Press, no other information available) should be an extraordinary analysis of an extraordinary time in Cold War-era Peru. More information to come.

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Book gems of 2016
An occasional series
Jan. 3: Antiquity, Civil War, World War II, and space
June 22: Presidents and the political world
June 29: Texas and Texas history
July 6: Latin America
July 13: Slavery and the Civil War era
July 20: World War I and II, science, culture, and literature

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