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Carlos Droguett: El Hombre Que Trasladaba Las Ciudades [The Man Who Moved Cities]

While you can read a few of his novels in other European languages, none of Droguett’s books is available in English and this one is only available in Spanish and even then it is long since out of print, though readily available second-hand. It is easy to see why. Droguett’s theme, whether writing about current times or, as in this case, the past, is human suffering. This book, well in excess of 400 pages, is long, dense, written in interminable paragraphs and full of misery and suffering. Of course, this can make it an interesting book but makes it difficult to write, difficult to read and difficult to translate. It is the last of a trilogy of books on the Spanish conquest of what is now Chile. The first two are 100 gotas de sangre y 200 de sudor [100 Drops of Blood and 200 of Sweat] and Supay el cristiano [Supay the Christian]. It is set in the Tucumán region of Argentina and involves the activities of the conquistador Juan Núñez de Prado (link in Spanish only). Interestingly enough it is dedicated to another man who fought in the jungle – Che Guevara. One of the key characters in this novels is also called Guevara.

In 1550, when this novel is set, Núñez de Prado, had received permission to found a city in Tucumán and he founded the city of El Barco (the Spanish Wikipedia link has more information.) Meanwhile, Pedro de Valdivia was penetrating Chile from the Peru side and the two inevitably were going to clash. Francisco Villagra, whom we meet early on in this novel, is attacked by a group of Núñez de Prado’s men and Núñez de Prado has to hand over Barco to Valdivia. As a result, he founds another Barco (moves it as the title of the book has it). There will later be a third move. Francisco de Aguirre, who will replace Villagra, will found a fourth Barco. But Droguett’s aim is not to give the sanitised story of glory and the founding of Latin America. His novel is about suffering and death, the agony of the men fighting, their cruelty, the Indians they slaughter and their inevitable fate, death.

Droguett tells this story of the historical events, of which we know from the chronicles, but fills in the details as he imagines them. Núñez de Prado does found his city but sees his role as a Christ figure but not the Christ of glory but the Christ of suffering and blood and misery. From Guevara’s arrest of Villagra at the beginning to Aguirre’s treatment of the prisoners at the end there is no let up for more than 400 pages of the grim misery of the conquistadors and the poor Indians who get in their way. It really is a first-class book, showing the horrors of the Spanish conquest but also the horrors faced by the men involved in the conquest, how for them blood and death are the only possible fates. It certainly is not for everyone but, if you do read Spanish, it is a book well worth reading.

Publishing history

First published in Spanish 1973 by Editorial Noguer
No English translation