Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Readings 2K9: Captain of the Andes

Captain of the Andes
by Margaret Harrison

This is an English-language biography from the 1940s of José de San Martín, liberator of Argentina, Chile, and Peru. It’s narrative in focus, to say the least. More precisely, it’s intensely romantic. San Martín is cast as an absolute hero; and while there’s no doubt his actions were heroic on a grand scale (raising an army and leading it across the Andes mountains to capture Chile from the Spanish, then leading them by sea up the coast to besiege Lima), you tend to wonder at the enthusiasm Harrison brings to her subject. As noted, the book was published in 1943, and it comes off as a rewrite of Bartolomé Mitre’s The Emancipation of South America — or at least of the chapters to do with San Martín. Mitre’s book is more restrained, and even then it’s been criticised for romanticising San Martín. It may be that the man’s accomplishment lends itself to such approaches. At any rate, Harrison’s book tends to be good at giving background, but occasionally difficult to follow when it comes to the exact chronology of San Martín’s actions. A bit of a mixed bag, but an easy read.

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