Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Secret of the Andes (1953)

I am going to begin this entry with a personal note.  You might have noticed that in reviewing this book, I skipped ahead about 10 years.  For our 20th wedding anniversary, my husband and I went to Peru for a week.  Loved it!!  We spent a couple of days in Cusco and a couple of days around Machu Picchu.  Some of the places mentioned in the book we were able to visit.

Set in the early 1900s, Secret of the Andes tells the story of Cusi, a young boy who lives with the mysterious Chuto.  Cusi was left with Chuto when he was a young child, too young to have memories of his previous life.  They live a very solitary existence high in the Andes Mountains caring for the flock of llamas.  When a family moves into the valley far below them, Cusi begins to question why he doesn't have a family.  When a minstrel (very unlike Roger the minstrel) joins them for a few days, an opportunity arises for Chuto to take Cusi to the bigger world.  He says to the minstrel, "It is time we saw the valley beyond us.  Today Cusi saw people in the valley below us.  In a week's time he will have seen many.  Curiosity can leap the highest wall; an open gate is better." (p. 5)  This idea is repeated in other places in the book, that sometimes too little freedom will cause rebellion.  So they visit the Salt Pits (which we also saw in our travels), and soon after a traveler comes to stay.  He trains Cusi in the history and ways of the Inca.  Cusi sometimes wonders why he  is being trained.

The book also focuses on the Incan people and the pride they take in being apart from their conquerors, the Spanish.  There is a lot of "us" and "them."  Also, feelings of resentment against the Spanish.  But mostly it is about Cusi deciding what he will do.  After receiving a sign, he goes off to Cusco, alone but for several llamas, to find a family that he might join.  The love Cusi has for Chuto is demonstrated in this passage.  "An old man on the mountaintop let his tears drop to heal the heartache of a lonely boy.  Cusi knew it.  He had been so close to Chuto, so near him, so much a part of his world, that he knew when the Old One cried.  He could sense the Old One's tears.  He knew that they were dropping to cool the burning of his heart, to soothe his aching disappointment, to wash all his bitterness away." (p. 77)

In Cusco, Cusi realizes his dream of being in a family was already his.  After spending time with a typical family he felt they were not his family.  He couldn't share what was most important with them, and he kept thinking of Chuto.  "There was the answer! What he had been looking for had been his.  He had not known it.  He had almost lost it.  He had almost gone away, leaving all that mattered behind him.  'But I guess deep in my heart I knew,'" (p. 109)

If the book ended with Cusi's realization that Chuto was his family, I would have really liked it.  However...  SPOILER ALERT...it is then revealed that Chuto is part of a long line of Inca who have kept the secret of gold in the mountains, gold that was to ransom the Inca king being held by the Spaniards 400 years before.  The gold is now in a hidden cave and the only ones to be able to access it are an old man and the young one he trains.  Just a bit far-fetched for me.

Quotes I liked:
"Cusi was glad to begin his new task, although usually he did not like to do it.  But today it seemed easier than thinking.  Some thoughts are hard to think about." (p. 18)

"They walked along in silence, a comfortable silence.  They were companions.  Companions have no need for constant talking." (p.44)

Clark, Ann Nolan. Secret of the Andes. The Viking Press, 1953.

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