Excerpt from Silver, Sword, and Stone by Marie Arana, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Silver, Sword, and Stone

Three Crucibles in the Latin American Story

by Marie Arana

Silver, Sword, and Stone by Marie Arana X
Silver, Sword, and Stone by Marie Arana
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    Aug 2019, 496 pages

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Leonor is not alone in her thrall to silver, sword, and stone. The majority of Latin Americans are bound to her by no more than a few degrees of separation. Extracting ore in Mexico, Peru, Chile, Brazil, and Colombia has resumed the primacy it had four hundred years ago, and the business of mining has gone a long way to redefine progress, boost economies, lift people out of poverty, and touch every aspect of the social fabric. Precious minerals pass from rural to urban handlers, from brown hands to white, from poor to rich. The gold that is dug from the rock beneath Leonor's hut fuels an elaborate economy: the seedy beer hall a few steps from her door, the flocks of child prostitutes down-mountain in Putina, the bankers in Lima, geologists in Canada, socialites in Paris, investors in China. It is an industry whose profits ultimately go overseas to Toronto, Denver, London, Shanghai, much as gold once crossed the Atlantic Ocean in Spanish galleons and made its way to Madrid, Amsterdam, and Peking. The general flow of revenue has not changed. It lingers briefly—enough for a beer at the cantina or a fly-bitten shank of goat to hang from the roof beam—and then it goes out. Away. Over there.

The "sword," too, has weathered history, from the keenly honed slate blades that Chimú warriors used to disembowel their enemies, to the crude kitchen knives deployed by Zeta gangsters in the Mexican city of Juárez. A culture of violence persists in Latin America, lurking in shadows, waiting to erupt, threatening the region's fitful progress toward peace and prosperity. The sword has been the ever-ready instrument in this precinct of stark inequalities: as useful in Augusto Pinochet's 1970s Chile, among a largely white, literate population, as in today's blood-soaked streets of Honduras among the illiterate poor. The ten most dangerous cities in the world are all in Latin American countries. Little wonder that the United States has seen a flood of desperate immigrants fleeing Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador. Fear is the engine that drives Latin Americans north.

As for "stone's" purchase on the spirit, there is no question that organized religion has played—and continues to play—a crucial role in these Americas. From the days of the Inca, when the great rulers Pachacutec Inca Yupanqui and Tupac Inca Yupanqui "turned the world" and expanded the empire by conquering vast swaths of South America and forcing the vanquished masses to worship the sun, faith has been a weapon of coercion as well as an instrument for social cohesion. The Aztecs shared the Incas' appetite for conquest as well as a keen appreciation for the uses of religion. But they had a starkly different approach to conversion: they often adopted the deities of the newly conquered with the understanding that someone else's god might have much in common with one's own. Stroll through any Mesoamerican or Andean village, and you will find lively expressions of those ancient beliefs in contemporary art and ritual traditions.

Today, although various Amerindian, African, Asian, and European faiths are practiced in Latin America, the region remains firmly stamped with the one Spain imposed on it more than five hundred years ago. It is adamantly Catholic. A full 40 percent of all the world's Catholics reside here, and, as a result, a strong bond unites the believers, from Montevideo, Uruguay, to Monterrey, Mexico. Indeed Simón Bolívar, who liberated six South American republics, imagined the Spanish-speaking, Catholic nations of those Americas as a potentially powerful unified force in the greater world. The Spanish Crown may have worked mightily to keep its colonies from communicating, trading, or establishing human concord, but it joined them forever when it led them to the feet of Jesus. In the end, Bolívar was never able to fashion a strong Pan-American union from the diverse, restless population of Spanish-speaking Christians that he liberated. But the Church today remains, as it was in Bolívar's time, the most trusted institution in all of Latin America.

Excerpted from Silver, Sword, and Stone by Marie Arana. Copyright © 2019 by Marie Arana. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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