Friday, 30 August 2013

Read in 2013 - 31: The Treasure of the Incas

The author of this book, George Alfred Henty, lived from 1832 until 1902, but apparently, "The Treasure of the Incas" was published after his death, in 1903.
Over 120 books are attributed to Mr. Henty, most of them containing historical adventures, and most of them aimed at boys. Having visited many of the places he wrote about himself (he was a special correspondent in the Crimean and other wars, witnessed the opening of the Suez canal and travelled a lot), he was able to give the settings of his stories real atmosphere.

Wikipedia says that he developed his story-telling skill when, widowed after only six years of marriage, he started telling his children stories after dinner. That makes him sound like a good father and good man, but he has also raised some controversy over racist comments he has made, and in his books, indigenous characters mostly come off a lot worse than the British heroes. Well, that was by no means unusual way of thinking during those days, and it has only been for the past 30 years or so that people in the public eye have been criticized for making remarks that are deemed politically incorrect.

"The Treasure of the Incas" is set in Peru and tells the story of two brothers from England who set out on a voyage to get rich. Of cousre, them being English, they have only the noblest of motives: the older brother is very much in love with a young woman he wishes to marry, but her father won't accept anyone who is not rich enough to keep his daughter in the standard of living she has been used to all her life. The condition is that, if he should make a fortune within two years, he will give the union his blessing.

An old friend of the brothers advises him to try his luck in Peru, where mines and ancient treasures are beckoning the adventurers. Coupled with an unstable political climate and conditions very different from what they are used to in England, the brothers are in for a trip far from boring.

A trusted muleteer of Indian descent, his wife and a young relative are their faithful companions on this trip, and a close friendship is formed between the small group.

Places and events are described in much detail - sometimes a bit too much detail for my taste. For example, in describing the method the older brother wants to apply to get to a specific hidden treasure, first he tells this to his younger brother, and then he outlines the entire method once again to the muleteer. Throughout the book, such doubled descriptions prevail, and I must admit I sometimes gave the pages a quick eye-scan to move on to the more interesting bits again.

I did enjoy the adventures, and it was not always clear how things were going to turn out, but I doubt I shall be reading more of Henty's work. (It was, you guessed it, a free ebook on Amazon.) I did learn some things about the situation in Peru in those days and the different ways of life for people in towns and in the country, and found that really interesting.

Take, for example, this meal the brothers are served at the muleteer's house when they first meet him:
It consisted of puchero, a stew consisting of a piece of beef, cabbage, sweet-potatoes, salt pork, sausage-meat, pigs' feet, yuccas, bananas, quinces, peas, rice, salt, and an abundance of Chili peppers. This had been cooked for six hours and was now warmed up. Two bottles of excellent native wine, a flask of spirits, and some water were also put on the table.
Also, to read about how travelling was organised back then, what people took with them, what they ate etc., made me appreciate once more all the comfort we have today.


  1. That "recipe" certainly has everything but the kitchen sink in it! But interesting......I've only read Henty's Beric the Briton, about a young man in Roman England, and read it because it was mentioned in one of D.E. Stevenson's books as something one of the characters read while young and then named their son Beric.

    1. Beric the Briton sounds interesting. Maybe I will, after all, give another one of Henty's novels a try some time.
      Leaving out the salt pork, sausage meat and pigs' feet, the puchero could actually be quite nice, although I can not imagine how quinces and bananas taste in combination with all the other stuff. And then imagine to cook it for six hours...!

  2. I shall not live long enough Meike even to read all the books you read because I just don't spend enough time reading. It's good therefore to have you as a guide and filter for so many books. This is one I shall pass on.

    1. It definitely is one that can be passed on without missing out on much, Graham!