Cut Stones and Crossroads by Ronald Wright

4.5 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Just out of university having studied archaeology, Ronald Wright had a whole world that he wanted to explore, but what piqued his interest was the history and architecture of Peru. It seems like the place to go and he could then find out about the ancient civilisations of the Incas and go and see royal cities of Cusco and Machu Picchu.

It wasn’t quite as was he was expecting though, what he found was a land of contrasts. They may have been suppressed by the Spanish invaders, but the spirited character of the people still shone through. He avoided the tourist routes, instead, taking the local transport or caging a lift in some very dubious cars and trucks, staying in seedy hotels and at other times camping.

He is endlessly fascinated by the ancient buildings and towns that are still visible in the landscape, spending time in amongst the stones to gain the most elementary of understandings as to why they are built. His descriptions of these places are very detailed and almost academic at times, but he is careful to link what he is seeing to the cultural and historical records of the people. His passage on the Saywite Stones is an excellent example of this.

The shadows lengthen now as evening approaches; around me the oblique lighting brings more and more of the strange, half natural landscape to life.

What really makes this book for me is the way that he takes to the people he encounters on his travels. His curiosity is boundless and it doesn’t matter if he is talking to a blind musician, crushed in a bus with 42 other people and a variety of animals watching two passengers slowly chew their coca leaves. I another moment, he is feeling ill and starts swaying from side to side, so sits down. Then he notices that the Land Rover is swaying too, it is a gentle earthquake.

Throughout all of this book you never feel that you get to know the man writing the book, he is to a certain extent elusive, reporting on events and interactions as he sees them and describing the people with empathy and places and architecture with an expert eye. He can see through the culture that the Spanish draped over the society and glimpses the strong spirit of the people that still shines through. I liked the way he has selected songs and poems from the people there and included them in the book, they add a touch of authenticity that you don’t always get in other travel books. Well worth reading and highly recommended.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    Eland have done some smashing books in this series, haven’t they!

    • Paul

      In all the books of theirs that I have read, there has only been one that I wasn’t that enamoured by. All the rest are really good

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