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Winner, American Library Association Booklist’s Top of the List, 2019 Adult Nonfiction
Longlisted for the 2020 Andrew Carnegie Medals for Excellence
Against the background of a thousand years of vivid history, acclaimed writer Marie Arana tells the timely and timeless stories of three contemporary Latin Americans whose lives represent three driving forces that have shaped the character of the region: exploitation (silver), violence (sword), and religion (stone).
Leonor Gonzales lives in a tiny community perched 18,000 feet above sea level in the Andean cordillera of Peru, the highest human habitation on earth. Like her late husband, she works the gold mines much as the Indians were forced to do at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Illiteracy, malnutrition, and disease reign as they did five hundred years ago. And now, just as then, a miner’s survival depends on a vast global market whose fluctuations are controlled in faraway places.
Carlos Buergos is a Cuban who fought in the civil war in Angola and now lives in a quiet community outside New Orleans. He was among hundreds of criminals Cuba expelled to the US in 1980. His story echoes the violence that has coursed through the Americas since before Columbus to the crushing savagery of the Spanish Conquest, and from 19th- and 20th-century wars and revolutions to the military crackdowns that convulse Latin America to this day.
Xavier Albó is a Jesuit priest from Barcelona who emigrated to Bolivia, where he works among the indigenous people. He considers himself an Indian in head and heart and, for this, is well known in his adopted country. Although his aim is to learn rather than proselytize, he is an inheritor of a checkered past, where priests marched alongside conquistadors, converting the natives to Christianity, often forcibly, in the effort to win the New World. Ever since, the Catholic Church has played a central role in the political life of Latin America—sometimes for good, sometimes not.
In Silver, Sword, and Stone Marie Arana seamlessly weaves these stories with the history of the past millennium to explain three enduring themes that have defined Latin America since pre-Columbian times: the foreign greed for its mineral riches, an ingrained propensity to violence, and the abiding power of religion. What emerges is a vibrant portrait of a people whose lives are increasingly intertwined with our own.
About the Author
Marie Arana was born in Lima, Peru. She is the author of the memoir American Chica, a finalist for the National Book Award; two novels, Cellophane and Lima Nights; and The Writing Life, a collection from her well-known column for The Washington Post. She is the Literary Director of the Library of Congress and lives in Washington, DC, and Lima, Peru.
“Marie Arana’s monumental, stupendous new history of Latin America, Silver Sword, and Stone, is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand this hemisphere and our current crises.”
— Julia Alvarez, author of In the Time of the Butterflies
“Meticulously researched, the book’s greatest strengths are the power of its epic narrative, the beauty of its prose and its rich portrayals of character. . . . Arana’s strength is the power and passion of her storytelling, and her explanation of what has shaped Latin America over the past half-millennium has the ring of truth. . . . [A] marvelous book.”
— Tom Gjelten
“Silver, Sword, and Stone, as Arana points out, is not a straightforward history of Latin America. Neither is it journalism. Rather, it’s a hybrid, combining learned historical analysis with in-depth reporting and political commentary. . . . [And] an informed and authoritative voice, one that deserves a wide audience.”
— Álvaro Enrigue
"An impressive combination of scholarship and journalism; Arana’s deep research is enhanced by her insightful interviews with people throughout the continent. . . . Arana succeeds at weaving a multilayered tapestry of the people and themes that, over the past thousand years, have shaped Latin America into the complex but hugely compelling place it is today."
— Richard Moe
“Through the power and beauty of her writing, Arana brings extraordinary clarity to one of the most complex regions of the world. I have never before read a book of such astonishing breadth and intricate depth, capturing both the magnificent sweep of history and the gripping immediacy of journalism. The stories she tells will break your heart and blow your mind, but they will also give you a much clearer understanding of Latin America and a deep sense of wonder at the strength and resilience of its people.”
— Candice Millard, author of Hero of the Empire
“Gets at the identity conundrum of Latin America with storytelling that is both clear-eyed and evocative. . . . The sweep and soar of her narrative recalls Victor Hugo. . . . Arana gives us an epic story of stories — of regions conjoined by desire for treasure, power and control, and of the emotional mortar which binds people together through endurance.”
— Marcela Davison Aviles
“An elegant and incisive writer and observer, Marie Arana has given us a thoughtful and revealing portrait of the fabled—and too-little-understood—world of Latin America. Combining history with contemporary reportage, Silver, Sword & Stone is compelling reading.”
— Jon Meacham, author of The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels
“Like a condor soaring above the Andes, Marie Arana gives a sweeping overview of Latin American history. History is usually written by the winners, but this book throbs with passion for the victims and underdogs. It also celebrates the cultural triumphs, exuberance and generosity that make Latin America so lovable.”
— John Hemming, author of The Conquest of the Incas
“To trace the soul of a continent is an extraordinary feat, and Marie Arana does it with scholarly precision, moral thoroughness and elegance of style. For anyone interested in understanding—really understanding—what Latin America is and where it comes from, Silver, Sword and Stone has to be the first step.”
— Juan Gabriel Vásquez, author of The Sound of Things Falling
"Peruvian-born author Marie Arana takes us directly to the mysterious and misunderstood center of Latin America in her latest book. . . . The sweep is enormous and complex, but Arana’s storytelling and her obvious compassion guide us through the past millennium as an absorbing, even poignant, kaleidoscopic journey to places it behooves us all to comprehend."
— Yvette Benavides
“Arana’s fluency in Latin American history blossoms in this unique and arresting inquiry into three ‘crucibles’ which have shaped Latin American life for centuries. . . . In this masterwork of exploration, connection, and analysis, Arana offers a fresh, gripping, and redefining perspective on a vital and magnificent region betrayed by toxic greed and vicious tyranny.”
— Booklist (starred review)
"The Peruvian-born author delves into the tripartite crux of Latin American exploitation by the Western powers. . . . [An] impressively concise yet comprehensive history. A profoundly moving and relevant work that provides new ways of thinking about the 'discovery of America.'"
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A sweeping history of Latin America . . . . As captivating as it is comprehensive. It’s a marvel for covering so much ground.”
— Publishers Weekly