THE BROKEN SPEARS (Beacon, S5.00) contains part of the Aztec account of the conquest of Mexico. It is an extraordinary little book, which, although it doesn’t challenge the generally accepted story of Cortez’s campaign, does present the point of view of his bewildered victims with touching immediacy. It is not a complete reproduction of the available records. MIGUEL LEON-PORTILLA has edited the material for the general reader, removing repetitions and incoherencies. The text as it stands, translated from Nahuatl into Spanish by Dr. Angel Maria Garibay K. and from Spanish into English by Lysander Kemp, is so clear-cut that one wonders what confusion could have existed in the original. As presented here, the Aztec chroniclers seem to have been a remarkably direct and lucid set of writers, with a scholarly determination to set things down as accurately as possible. Even the poetry, included by the editor as emotional rather than factual evidence, achieves its very considerable effect with a minimum of symbolic and figurative ornamentation.
Nothing but flowers and songs of sorrow
are left in Mexico and Tlatelolco,
where once we saw warriors and wise
men. . . .
We are crushed to the ground;
we lie in ruins.
There is nothing but grief and suffering
in Mexico and Tlatelolco.
where once we saw beauty and valor.
PICTURES FROM BRUEGHEL by WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS (New Directions Paperbook, $2.25) includes, besides the poem sequence of the title, the previously published Journey to Love and The Desert Music. Dr. Williams’ experiments with a poetic meter — he calls it measure — which reproduces the rhythm of normal American speech occasionally result in prosiness. At its best, and that means most of the time, his poetry has a crackling energy that stirs up the reader’s wits much as snow in the face stirs tip the circulation.
REG VAN CUYLENBURG’S IMAGE OF AN ISLAND (Orion. $12.50) is a picture book about Ceylon. Picture book rather than book of pictures because the thing has a decided fairy-tale atmosphere. There is enough text to explain what the excellent photographs represent, but not so much that the eye and imagination are fettered to mundane detail. The book is an invitation to exotic daydreams.
In SPEAKING THE LANGUAGE LIKE A NATIVE (McGraw-Hill, $5.50), AUBREY MENEN, who has lived in Italy for years, describes the terrible pitfalls of trying to learn correct Italian and throws in some observations on local character for good measure. Perhaps because his basic assumption is artificially selective — after all. nobody except a native ever speaks any language like a native — Mr. Menen’s humor wears thin long before the end of the book, which is better read in snippets than as a whole.
THE SERPENT’S COIL by FARLEY MOWAT (Atlantic Little, Brown, $4.95) tells the true story of a particularly difficult and freakish salvage job done by two Canadian deep-sea tugs back in 1948. It is easy to forget how recent is the accurate observation of hurricanes, if accurate isn’t too strong a word. After a bout with a nasty storm of this kind, the exLiberty ship Leicester had been abandoned, helpless and listing to an incredible degree. The tugs Foundation Josephine and Foundation Lillian were sent to find the derelict and bring her in. and despite engine trouble, two more hurricanes, and the interference of a Greek tramp overrun with goats, sheep, and a cow, they did it. Mr. Mowat does full justice to a fine heroic story. He is very ingenious in making marine maneuvers intelligible to the hindlubber. and his quotations from the men — mostly Newfoundlanders — who actually worked the tugs are alternately hilarious and hair-raising.
Volume one of THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF EASTER ISLAND (Rand McNally, $25.00), edited by THOR HEYERDAHL and EDWIN N. FERDON, JR., is primarily a specialist’s book, containing sober, careful reports of the Norwegian Archaeological Expedition to Easter Island and the East Pacific. But since this expedition made the first systematic scientific examination of Easter Island relics, the book presents a great deal of new and interesting information for the amateur enthusiast. There are maps, sketches, diagrams, and a history of the island included.