GARDENS OF PLENTY by Ron Arias (Peru)

Kirkus review —

An action-packed and historically rich novel with a compelling lead character.

Ron Arias (Peru 1963-64)

In Ron Arias’  (Peru 1963-64)  novel set in the 16th century, a teenage orphan signs up as a ship’s boy on the Mynion, a British trading ship headed for the West Indies.

Joseph Fields is 13 years old in 1567, when he flees the orphanage where he’s lived since his parents and sister succumbed to the plague two years ago. His father was a scrivener, as was his father before him, and Joseph learned the skill at his dad’s knee. He gets a job on a trading ship and sails away from England with only three significant possessions: his mother’s wooden spoon, her comb for removing lice and nits, and his father’s penknife, which has a cryptic engraving on the handle. Each will prove to be invaluable on his dangerous journey.

The Mynion sails first to Spain and then to the western coast of Africa, making stops along the way to pick up abducted men, women, and children to be sold into slavery in the Indies. Joseph, who changes his name to José when he reaches Spanish-occupied Mexico, is struck by the cruelty that the African people face. He forges a bond with Hassan, a kidnapped Black Muslim, and the English crewmembers call José a heretic—as do the Spaniards who later conquer the ship.

After he’s set ashore near Veracruz, he’s quickly captured and enslaved by local tribespeople, and he sets his mind to escaping his captors. Joseph/José is a captivating narrator throughout. He faces storms and battles during his first full year at sea, and that’s just the beginning of a dramatic, vividly detailed saga that covers two decades of hair-raising adventures, including tragedies, a love affair, and a surprising discovery about the protagonist’s past. Arias packs the narrative with late 16th-century history, as seen through the eyes of a frightened, naïve young lad who develops into a sturdy, resourceful, and compassionate character. It’s a skillfully written and engaging exploration of the toll of racial and religious bigotry, as well as a story of bravery, friendship, and survival.

An action-packed and historically rich novel with a compelling lead character.


Gardens of Plenty 
Ron Arias (Peru 1963-65)
Peace Corps Writers
June 2024
414 pages
$16.99 (paperback), $19.99 (hard back), $9.99 (Kindle)

One Comment

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  • Mr. Arias is a skilled, colorful and factually careful storyteller. I look forward to adding “Gardens” to my library. It promises to flesh out some of the little-known early days of the barbaric Atlantic slave trade Thank you, Ron, for your many contributions.

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