Book Review: Matilde Asensi’s Tierra Firme

Tierra Firme. La vida extraordinaria de Martín Ojo de Plata
[Tierra Firme. The extraordinary life of Martín Silver Eye]
Matilde Asensi
Editorial Planeta 2007
239 pages

Reviewed by EneryVibes

The book tells the adventures of a girl who goes through life as a young man in 16th century Caribbean.

The 16 year old Catalina Solis is bound to the island of Margarita to live with her husband Domingo Rodríguez, when her ship is being entered by English pirates. To safe herself she jumps of board in the clothes of her brother who travelled with her.

After two years on an isolated island, she’s rescued by a merchant Esteban Nevares. To escape her mentally impaired husband she struck a deal with Nevares to be the son he never had, Martín Nevares. Together they embark on an extraordinary adventure on the Chacona (Nevares’s ship) as traders in the ports of the Caribbean and as arms smugglers for the cimmarones (free slaves) living in Tierra Firme.

Tierra Firme in Spain’s colonial times was the name given to Venezuela, the Isthmus of Panama and part of Colombia which was a province of New Granada. Originally also the territories on the northern coast from the Guyanas up to Panama

Soon Martín discovers the illicit practices of the Curvo brothers and of Melchor de Osuna’s connections with the agents of the Casa de Contratación de Sevilla. Thereby uncovering the illegal practices in these colonies and untying her father of a lifetime commitment with Osuna.

Asensi’s novel is very entertaining and gives us a view on a part of history that we rarely know about.  It gives insight in the society of the Spanish colonies a century after Columbus discovered the New World. How people lived and tried to survive in a rough environment. In those days the commercial administration was established in Sevilla. Spain had the power and monopoly to trade goods at their will. So their subjects were obliged to smuggle and trade with pirates in the area to bypass the trade restriction imposed on them by Spain. In those days pirates were everywhere, sanctioned or not by their government.

The colonial society of the New World produced from the start mixed races between whites, indians, blacks and chinese. The mixing of the races brought a never ending casts. People were registered by their cast in the official administration. The mestizo was son of a spanish and an indian; the mulato of spanish and black, the coyote or cholo of indian and mestizo; and the cuarterón of spanish and mestizo. Martín Nevares posed as a mestizo in the story.

Ansensi did a thorough research on the time the story takes place, of how society functioned as on facts of navigation. She uses quiet a few notes to explain for example from how to calculate the course of navigation and how ships functioned at that time. She also describes the trade and the political intrigue without boring the reader. These historical events are intertwined in the story and the actions of the characters.

The character of Martín Nevares a.k.a. Catalina Solis is not yet fully rounded, but it has potential. Martín is occupied with rescuing his adoptive father from a bad deal with Melchor de Osuna, a ruffian mildly expressed. Although in the story you don’t get the sense that she’s a girl and it doesn’t look as if she’s too preoccupied with that. Still it surfaces from time to time at crucial moments threatening to expose her secret. On the long run she’s been accepted as one of the boys and even lead them in the absence of her father. At the end when her husband dies she has doubts on her gender and take a remarkable decision.

But that I leave to the reader. I enjoyed reading this book. It’s adventurous, it has that kick ass quality of girl power in the main character of Catalina Solis/Martín Nevares and the historical background entice you to delve into the past.  

To my surprise I came across the next volume in the trilogy Venganza en Sevilla [Vengeance in Sevilla – freely translated] in the library. It’s on my bookshelf to be read.

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~ by eneryvibes on 1,August 28, 2010.

2 Responses to “Book Review: Matilde Asensi’s Tierra Firme”

  1. I began reading Venganza en Sevilla first because this is a book we were supposed to read in class but I don’t feel like I’ve lost *too* much of Catalina’s/Martin’s essence without reading the first novel. What I truly wanted to ask was if anyone knew the name of the third book of this series because I know for a fact that a book this mouthwatering cannot end like this (and if it does I will off myself) and because Google says it’s a trilogy but I’ve been ceaslessly searching for the damned title but its nowhere to be found. I don’t know if it’s because it’s not out yet or because I’m just a fail 😉 either way, I’d really appreciate if someone would tell me SOMETHING about the alleged third book. Thaaankss…

    • As far as I know the third book by Asensi hasn’t been publicised yet. I recommend you reading Tierra firme. It has some interesting historical background of the Caribbean.

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