- history - literature
'The Indies Enterprise' by Erik Orsenna
Olivier Barrot tells us about "The Indies Enterprise" by Erik Orsenna.
Once, Erik Orsenna was a high-ranking civil servant, a top economist, a professor, and a special adviser to President Mitterrand for arts and culture. But he also happens to be a well-known novelist, who was awarded the Prix Goncourt in 1988. A writer then, a traveller, a top class sea maniac who sailed across the Atlantic to end up as a member of the prestigious Académie française.
From Orsenna, you can expect almost everything, since this mustachioed wanderer keeps showing the most varied talents as a fiction and non fiction author. "The Indies Enterprise" is based on real events, because Orsenna enjoys nothing more than going through archives, memos and documents, and exploit them in a thrilling narrative way. On August 13th, 1476, off the coast of Portugal, a ship commanded by Christopher Columbus was wrecked. He then joined his younger brother Bartholomew, a cartographer. At that time, Lisbon was a capital of discovery, from where the two devoted themselves thoroughly to a major project: searching a passage to the Indies, Cipango (i.e. Japan) and the Empire of the Great Khan (i.e. China). We all know how it ended: instead of going East, the Columbus brothers went West, and what happened, happened.
Erik Orsenna tries and succeeds in getting into the Columbus brothers' minds, eager to open up new routes and worlds. Too inquisitive to remain secluded, the pair wishes to set the planet anew. Orsenna, a great narrator, devotes his craft to Bartholomew. "I was not expecting to be telling the story. In our family, it is the elder brother who dreams, and his dream is considered sacrosanct. One way or another, Christopher took us all on board with him. He had given each of us a part to play. Mine was to help him, day and night, and to keep my mouth shut. I never thought of protesting. And it was just as well that I went along with the dream, because that is how it came true."
What does it take to discover America? Strangely enough, maybe, "The Indies Enterprise" reminded me of the famous movie by John Ford, "Stagecoach". A bunch of characters compelled to stick together through ordeals of all sorts, aboard a moving vessel. They come across Jews and Indians, fabulous beasts and creatures, naval battles and sicknesses, priests and prostitutes. As for Christopher Columbus, his obsession was to master knowledge, and check his intuitions. Orsenna's is different, obviously. He designs a wonderful story told by an outsider, and leaves a few remaining questions unanswered: what is the point in a new world, since it requires the abolition of the old one?
"The Indies Enterprise"