Life and Death in the Andes

In his new meditation on South America, Life and Death in the Andes, Kim MacQuarrie (The Last Days of the Incas) follows the spine of the world's longest mountain chain, exploring the lives of legendary characters like Charles Darwin, Pablo Escobar and Che Guevara. Picking through remnants and ruins, he muses on indigenous cultures' disappearance and searches for the true uniqueness of the South American continent. Each chapter works as an extended essay on a historical figure, such as Hiram Bingham and his strained relationship with the Peruvians after his discovery of Machu Picchu. Many of the characters explored are the outlaws and revolutionaries that often kick up in South American history, societal outcasts like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the drug lord Pablo Escobar and the passionate rebel Che Guevara. MacQuarrie shapes their stories by re-imagining scenes from their lives, from moments of triumph and discovery to an often tragic demise.

In a chapter on the Incas, MacQuarrie even brings to life an anonymous “Ice Maiden” of Peru, whose body was preserved at the time she was sacrificed, at the age of fourteen, to the Incan gods. He gives voice to some fast-disappearing native cultures, visiting the last living speaker of the Yamana language. In a fascinating chapter on Kon-Tiki and the raft-builders that made the famous voyage possible, he meets the natives who make their home on the floating islands of Titicaca Lake. By weaving historical anecdotes from these fascinating lives into his travelogue, MacQuarrie makes both the ancient cultures and the present-day people of South America sing, transforming swan songs historians can’t forget into siren songs travelers can’t resist.