where the writers are
"a doozy..." San Francisco Chronicle
Date of Review: 
Peter Lewis
San Francisco Chronicle

Schneider unfurls this horribly ill-fated expedition against the social sensibilities and political designs prevailing in Spain at the start of the 16th century. Imperial realities are subverted. For instance, it is one thing to be caught nude in public, the fodder of many a bad dream. It was all the more mortifying for someone of the Spanish upper crust, who placed a premium on fine clothing. To be well dressed was to be civilized. No self-respecting conquistador, no bringer-of-the-faith, sallied forth naked. So who's the heathen now, Senor Cabeza de Vaca?

Thank Cabeza de Vaca, though, for his descriptions of life among the Indians. "There is no one alive today who identifies him- or herself as a Mariames or Yguases," Schneider writes, "or even a Karankawa; no one to add oral history or traditional knowledge to the accounts of the 1530s."

Conquistador-bureaucrat turned anthropologist. Not a career move Cabeza de Vaca would have anticipated or appreciated, but, in Schneider's hands, it makes for a great bad trip.