The Swiss explorer, archaeologist and anthropologist Adolf F. Bandelier grew up in America and devoted his studies to the American Southwest, Mexico and South America. He was the leading authority on the pueblo peoples of the so-called ‘four corners’ (Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado). His 1890 historical novel concerning the pre-Columbian peoples of this area (called ‘Anasazi people’ by their Navajo neighbors) is a gold mine of valuable information and I found it incredibly useful in constructing the ‘Cibolan’ civilization for Golden Heart.
The story is an intimate look at family life within the pueblos of the Anasazi. It opens with a young boy called Okoya who is destined to join the ranks of the Koshare; a class of medicine men and women who are the Delight Makers of the title. His faith in them is shaken by his mother, Say Koitza, who dislikes one in particular, a powerful Delight Maker called Tyope. But when Okoya falls in love with Tyope’s daughter, Mitsha, he begins to question his mother’s motives.
It’s not an easy read. Bandelier’s writing style at times seems more suited to a text book and he leaves many terms unexplained, assuming the reader already has some knowledge of this civilization. This isn’t helped by the dizzying array of characters with unfamiliar names which had me on the verge of making notes throughout. Plenty more is explained however and, although Bandelier is the first to admit that in the absence of hard evidence, one must infer a little, the level of detail and believe-ability of the civilization and customs of his characters is top notch. Using archaeology and observations of current pueblo peoples such as the Hopi and the Zuni, Bandelier has constructed a world that is totally immersive and utterly convincing.