Ronald Wright's latest novel The Gold Eaters — which tells the story of a young boy who becomes entangled in the Spanish invasion of the Incan empire — was inspired both by the years the award-winning B.C. historian and novelist spent in Peru and from actual persons in the 16th century.
The Gold Eaters is set in both Peru and Spain in the 1500s, and is told through the eyes of Waman, a young Incan boy who is captured by the Spanish and used as a translator.
"This story has haunted me throughout my writing career," said Wright, who has written ten books of fiction and nonfiction published in 16 languages.
Wright researched Inca history in Peru
"I'd always felt that the story of what happened to the Incas in the 16th century had never really penetrated our general cultural consciousness."
Wright drew on his wealth of knowledge about Latin America for the book, having spent time traveling and living in Peru in the 70s and 80s, and having published the travel memoir Cut Stones and Crossroads of his time tracing the history of the Incas.
Wright, who now lives on Salt Spring Island, studied archaeology and anthropology at Cambridge University.
He said Waman, the protagonist of his new book, is based on someone in history about whom not much is known.
He said that historical documents tell of an early Spanish exploratory voyage down the coast from Panama that met a large trading ship carrying gold, silver, cloth and other fine goods from the Incas.
The Spaniards razed the vessel and captured a young man to train as an interpreter.
Based on historical persons
"From the early sources we know know that he was taken to Spain. He was with the Spaniards for some five years before they came back to actually invade Peru with an army," Wright said.
"He was used as the interpreter in the conversations with the Peruvians, but he was obviously clearly conflicted and quite traumatized by what had happened to him, because he was taken off this ship at age 13 or so and brought back at age 18 and plunged into these world-changing events."
While this inspired the character of Waman, another character in his novel was inspired by someone whom the Spanish left behind in Peru — to become an interpreter and possibly a spy.
"These two are mirror images," he said. "The Peruvian who becomes a Spaniard, and the Spaniard who becomes a Peruvian, and how their lives eventually end up being quite intimately connected."
Wright said writing this novel was a means to explore the cultural clashes of these two civilizations in a way that academia could not.
"I always wanted the freedom to imagine what it was really like, and I felt like just taking the traditional approaches of archaeology and history didn't go that extra step that makes it come alive," he said.
"I wanted to feel — and I hope help the reader feel — what it was like to be there at that time, which after all, was not that long ago. I wanted the reality of it to be palpable and tangible."
To hear the full interview listen to the audio labelled: B.C. author Ronald Wright says new book immerses readers in the clash of cultures between Incas and Spaniards