“A thoughtfully observed travel memoir and history as richly detailed as it is deeply felt” (Kirkus Reviews) of South America, from Butch Cassidy to Che Guevara to cocaine king Pablo Escobar to Charles Darwin, all set in the Andes Mountains.
The Andes Mountains are the world’s longest mountain chain, linking most of the countries in South America. Kim MacQuarrie takes us on a historical journey through this unique region, bringing fresh insight and contemporary connections to such fabled characters as Charles Darwin, Che Guevara, Pablo Escobar, Butch Cassidy, Thor Heyerdahl, and others. He describes living on the floating islands of Lake Titcaca. He introduces us to a Patagonian woman who is the last living speaker of her language. We meet the woman who cared for the wounded Che Guevara just before he died, the police officer who captured cocaine king Pablo Escobar, the dancer who hid Shining Path guerrilla Abimael Guzman, and a man whose grandfather witnessed the death of Butch Cassidy.
Collectively these stories tell us something about the spirit of South America. What makes South America different from other continents—and what makes the cultures of the Andes different from other cultures found there? How did the capitalism introduced by the Spaniards change South America? Why did Shining Path leader Guzman nearly succeed in his revolutionary quest while Che Guevara in Bolivia was a complete failure in his?
“MacQuarrie writes smartly and engagingly and with…enthusiasm about the variety of South America’s life and landscape” (The New York Times Book Review) in Life and Death in the Andes. Based on the author’s own deeply observed travels, “this is a well-written, immersive work that history aficionados, particularly those with an affinity for Latin America, will relish” (Library Journal).
Filmmaker MacQuarrie (The Last Days of the Incas) assembles an overly ambitious mix of travelogue, history, and anthropological study that tours the Andes mountain range through stories of well-known people who inhabited the region in the past. The hodgepodge of miniature historical accounts, which leap around in time and subject, is strung together primarily by geography. The figures include Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar in the late 1980s and '90s, naturalist Charles Darwin on his trip to the Gal pagos Islands, famous bandits Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara during his last days in the Bolivian forest, among others. MacQuarrie interjects himself into the narrative, sometimes as a reporter (as when he interviews the colonel in charge of hunting down Escobar) and other times as a traveler (as when he recounts arguing with an elderly Chinese tourist about creationism while on a boat tour of the Gal pagos). The time line of this personal subthread is never apparent and makes for a stringy, convoluted narrative that fails to create a comprehensive whole.