James Michener has made a successful career of sticking a pin in the map and turning the history of the lucky location into literary 'infotainment'. Starch-stiff with research, laden with melodrama, dripping with sentiment, Hawaii, Texas, the Caribbean, even Space have all received the treatment. The anchor-man of Michener's latest novel, set in Mexico, is an American reporter whose Spanish-Mexican-Indian descent qualifies him to cover a bullfighting contest, to guide us through the past glories and gore of this 'violent, colourful land'.
Pre-Columbus, we're treated to the discovery of alcohol and the building of pyramids, and page after page of human sacrifice before the pale men on four-legged gods arrive bringing peace, love and roast heretic. The 'chaotic years' of the Revolution turn out to be unnecessarily complicated, meriting just half a page of dead bandits.
Michener's prose lands in the worst of both worlds. The Altomec Indians are a 'fictional composite of several ancient peoples'; buildings and clothes are forever 'typical of the period'. While fans may forgive the creaking prose and crass simplification, they'll be less happy that the new Michener lacks even a good story. And as for the racial-cultural issue, forget it: he buzzes around the debate like a horse-fly at a bullfight.Reuse content