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The Accidental Indies


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A lyrical tale following Columbus on a fantastic voyage through western seas and Western imagination

About the Author

Robert Finley is associate professor of English at Memorial University and the author of A Ragged Pen: Essays on Poetry and Memory.


A highly imaginative, at times elusive exercise in poetic prose, this retelling of Columbus's discovery of the New World navigates the tenuous boundaries between academic study and literary imagination. Finley uses Columbus's voyage as an allegorical lightning rod to explore how we understand and appropriate the world around us by measuring and naming our surroundings. We are first introduced to the infant Christopher, who, one sleepy Genoese afternoon, shows an inherent instinct for exploration as he intrepidly ventures out of his crib--only to tumble headlong to the floor. This initial adventure foreshadows his adult voyages of discovery. Finley's fictional Columbus is not merely a scientific navigator, but also a dreamer and a visionary guided by the star of Wishful Thinking, one of the many arch devices Findley employs. Like Noah in the Ark and Moses in the desert, he lives in exile on the Sea of Allegory, because landfalls can be fixed only in relation to the chartless sea. By recording his travels in diary entries and on charts, Columbus fashions a virtual world. And when he strikes land at last and begins to name the islands, bays and hills on his maps, he again translates reality into record. In the act of writing, Columbus lays claim to his erroneously dubbed "Indies," and it is Columbus' transcription of the so-called New World, his ersatz version of this unknown land, that is brought back to the Old. In this intellectual, though somewhat cryptic meditation, Finley appropriates and recasts the Columbus myth in order to provide a thought-provoking commentary on the possessive and interpretative power of words, legends and visions. Illustration. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

"I was utterly enchanted by The Accidental Indies. With humour, inventiveness and an exquisite gift for words, Robert Finley has rescued Columbus' adventures from the excesses of hagiography and the disparagements of outrage, and restored them, once again, to the realm of myth from whence they sprung." Alberto Manguel, author of A History of Reading and The Dictionary of Imaginary Places "Exquisitely written. The Accidental Indies is a brilliant and utterly original work of literature." Eric Ormsby "The Accidental Indies is a gem - it is boldly imagined and splendidly written." John Casey, author of the National Book Award winner, Spartina "Imagine the infant Columbus vaulting out of his cradle, striking his head on the world, and spawning his megalomaniacal wanderlust. Thus Robert Finley begins his exquisite prose poem, The Accidental Indies, a fantasy of precise language and provocative imagery. I suspect Finley of past lives or channeling or worse, because he seems to know what really happened heading westward over the water in 1492. You do not simply read this story, you ride it, relish it, and sometimes you find yourself IN it." Dava Sobel, author of Longitude and Galileo's Daughter. "This is a beautiful book - a kind of magic, shamanic flight to find the inner meaning of Columbus. It is a work of literary power and rare imagination - a discovery of the great discoverer ... It is a rare combination of literature and history in a form that is daring and inspiring." Hugh Brody, author of Maps & Dreams "The Accidental Indies reads with a lyricism and intelligence that is hard to match in other modern fictions. It could be classified along with Michael Ondaatje's Coming through Slaughter and Anne Michaels' Fugitive Pieces." Carolyn Smart "Everything about The Accidental Indies envelops the reader in a warm sensuousness ... Through the lilt of his remarkably mellifluous prose, Finley allows us to the feel the wind on our face and to taste the salt air. We marvel, as Europeans must have then, at the first sight of parrots ... Finley gives us the opportunity to stand watch all night with Columbus, keeping the admiral company as we wait for land." The Citizen's Weekly Books "A remarkable achievement, an impeccably researched and engagingly inquisitive hybrid, as lovely and articulate as New World Parrot." Malahat Review "The grace and poetry of Finley's text ensure that any moralizing remains subordinate to the power of his classic storytelling. Striking images, rhythmic phrasing, and an eclectic vocabulary that prefers Anglo-Saxon to Latin results in a text that is as thrilling as it is serene." The Harvard Book Review "Read this short book and then read it again so that you can begin filling in all the marginalia that you missed the first time: the "fantasies - grotesques - titillations and taboos." The Accidental Indies is a work of adventure and exploration, about Columbus certainly, but also about how storytelling and language fills out but never replaces our metaphors and our own travels." The Montreal Gazette "Robert Finley's gorgeous, imaginative first book of fiction, beautifully explores the theme of mistaken identity: how perceptions of the new are twisted by where we come from, how our cultural signifiers reshape unfamiliar environments and people to suit our prejudices ... What a lovely book." The Georgia Straight "Finleys lyrical style, conjuring up the exotic, is reminiscent of Marlowe's or Shakespeare's. Finley's description of Columbus painstakingly decorating his chart of the newly discovered islands savours of the golden qualities of the age - gorgeous richness and variety in everything from apparel to poetry." The Globe and Mail "Finley appropriates and recasts the Columbus myth in order to provide a thought-provoking commentary on the possessive and interpretative power of words, legends, and visions." Publishers Weekly "With the details of seaman ship and sailing culture also as authentic as possible, the book is in many respects a rigorous imaging of what it might have been like to really be there, without the knowledge and prejudices of today." University of Toronto Quarterly "A meditation on Christopher Columbus, the poetic prose of this book evokes the life's journey of the great navigator, from early childhood to his discovery of Hispaniola. By reproducing all the stylistic inventions of the author, the translator has masterfully rendered this prose poem filled with historical detail and the magnificent vocabulary of sailing ships and the sea. He makes us actually hear the intertwining voices of this dream-like tale." Jury for the 2004 Governor-General's Literary Award in the category of French Translation

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