Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The Vivero Letter (by Desmond Bagley)

Obviously a cover for an omnibus edition of two separate novels has to be some kind of compromise. Please compare it to the cover of the edition I had read as a teenager (I still have the book). The cover is a little misleading (there are rifles and shotguns in the novel rather than mashine guns), but it's cool anyway.

My rating: 9/10

The Vivero Letter has a special place in my heart. From what I remember it was the first adult book I have bought. I had read most of Alistair MacLean novels before that, but they were not mine. The Vivero Letter was mine.

I must admit that as a teenager I felt that the first half of the book was weak and the second half was superb. As an adult I must say that Desmond Bagley created a unique build-up of tension before the final showdown, but the very start and the strong threads about personal relationships later in the novel can be particularly incomprehensible or/and annoying to younger readers.

Desmond Bagley took some time to develop the story, but the main plot required such an approach. Now (as an adult) I liked the first half of the book much more, because it shows that it is not possible to jump from one archaeological discovery (the Vivero letter itself) right to another even bigger discovery in the middle of the Yucatan jungle. It takes patience. It takes lots of scientific research. It takes logistic preparation. It takes luck. And it takes a lot of work to clear a tiny part of a jungle for a chopper to land. Cool stuff, really.

The Vivero letter itself is awesome. Bagley imagined a great story happening around 1530, during Spanish attemp to defeat Mayas (after the rout of Aztecs). I don’t want to spoil it, so I can’t write anything more, except that it connects to a Maya deity called Kukulkan. I must also point out that at first I thought that Bagley was not really well prepared about Yucatan and its natural resources, but everything was explained later in the novel. Great work by Bagley!

There are lots of interesting (and true) info about Yucatan penisula. For example there is not a single river on the whole penisula and the biggest danger for explorers is the lack of drinking water. However, it doesn't stop the jungle from being VERY thick.

The main character (meaning you – the novel is written in first person narration) is a good scuba-diver and I have learned lots about deep-water diving. The action about scuba-diving in a cenote – a huge round natural well in the middle of the Yucatan jungle – is very climatic.

The Vivero Letter is an exceptional novel that suits my taste almost perfectly. The very start is a little too slow, even though there is a murder several pages into the book. That’s why my rating is “only” very good.

PS. I have searched the net for Kukulkan and the Maya civilization and I found some very interesting things.

Kukulkan (Maya deity) is very similar to Quetzalcoatl (Aztec deity). In each case there was a real person bearing the same name, who is believed to have caused a migration of his people. I didn't find much about real-person Kukulkan, but here's a very interesting quote from Wikipedia about real-person Topiltzin Cē Ācatl Quetzalcōatl:

“He assumed lordship over the Toltecs and migrated his people to Tollan. Reigning in peace and prosperity he contributed much to the lifestyle of the Toltecs with basic ideas such as civilization. He was generally considered a god upon earth by his followers with similar powers to those of his namesake. According to legend, the most accepted fate of the god was that he migrated to Tlapallan where he either died or would rest forever.

He dispelled the traditions of the past and ended all human sacrifice during his reign. The translations claim that he loved his people so much he insisted that they only meet the ancient standards of the gods; he had the Toltec offer them snakes, birds and other animals, but not humans, as sacrifices. (...) It also demanded that all priests remain celibate and did not allow intoxication of any kind (...). These edicts and his personal purity of spirit caused Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl to be beloved by his vassals and revered for generations.”

(Saturday, 11 October 2014)

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