Published in Twayne’s World Authors Series, this work has the virtues of a good handbook: conciseness, relative completeness, and clear organization. It deals with a significant subject, the Peruvian mestizo chronicler Garcilaso el Inca. In a word, the book is both useful and easy to use. As a handbook it is not original or profound, though the author shows on occasion that he has a penetrating mind. There are sections on Garcilaso’s life and on each of his main works, with a chapter at the end assessing his general reputation and value. As one might expect in a semipopular series, the scholarly apparatus is minimal.
Much of the book is taken up with résumés of Garcilaso’s writings. These prove surprisingly enlightening and useful, even to one familiar with Garcilaso, though they do contain some undigested detail. Castanien also presents good discussions of the chronicler’s sources. He illustrates, through specific examples, the main factors shaping or distorting what Garcilaso wrote—the aristocratic bias, the need to justify his father, his double heritage, the idealization, and distance from events. Yet basic points of analysis are sometimes left out. In surveying Garcilaso’s reasons for writing La Florida, the author makes no mention of the fact that Hernando de Soto and most of his followers were from the area of Badajoz, homeland of Garcilaso’s father. Garcilaso here as elsewhere was concerned to exalt everything having to do with his forebears, including the whole Badajoz region.
Perhaps the book’s greatest service to the English reader is its faithful reproduction of the results of biographical research done by Raúl Porras Barrenechea. Porras has shown convincingly that there is much exaggeration in the image of a poverty-stricken, rejected Garcilaso. Almost adopted by his nobleman uncle, Garcilaso lived in Spain as a gentleman, eventually receiving a captain’s title, inheriting much of his uncle’s property, and endowing a chapel in the cathedral of Cordoba. For an orphaned, illegitimate, mestizo exile, this was stunning success. Castanien brings out Garcilaso’s position very well, more clearly in fact than the recent full-scale biography by John Grier Varner. Apparently Varner’s book appeared too late for Castanien to consult, but though Varner makes valuable additions of detail, his work does not alter the general picture.
A cycle in Garcilaso studies seems to be drawing to an end. The past fifteen or twenty years saw a spate of publications by Peruvians, as well as editions in Spanish. In English we have had translations, a biography, and now a handbook. We still lack a mature and extensive treatment of both man and work in a single volume. It is important to bring the two aspects meaningfully together because, as Castanien recognizes, Garcilaso’s primary importance is as a symbol and representative, rather than as a source for events. The task of synthesis should fall to a historian, who perhaps can muster more sophistication about the society and politics of the time than literary scholars like Castanien and Varner.