Saturday, June 19, 2010

Guest Author Annamaria Alfieri

Today we're pleased to welcome Annamaria Alfieri.
Deadly Pleasures Magazine called her book, City of Silver, one of the best first novels of the year.
The Washington Post said, “As both history and mystery, City of Silver glitters.”
And I couldn't agree more.

One of the secrets about Annamaria is that she isn't Annamaria. 
As Patricia King, her real name, she has authored five books on business subjects including Never Work for a Jerk, which was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and the current Monster Boss. 
Annamaria/Patricia lives in New York City, and writes today about the place where her novel is set:

The Richest City in the World

Picture the most powerful city in the Western Hemisphere, the same size as London, a place that has dominated the economic life of the planet for a century.  Its upper classes are mostly white, consumed with displaying their wealth in the form of the latest in luxury goods and sumptuous parties.  The thankless or dangerous work is done by a brown underclass of people largely of South American Indian or mixed Indian and Spanish blood.  At the moment, the city is on the brink of economic ruin, because its dominant men have manipulated the financial system in a way that will affect the economies of countries around the world.  The troubled among its citizens console themselves with strong drink or fundamentalist religion.
Sound familiar?  New York City in 2010, right?
Well, yes, but it is also Potosi, in the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru in 1650.

The most fundamental thing about Potosi is its position.  At 13,500 feet, it was then and is now the highest city on earth.  What could possibly have brought 160,000 souls—noblemen and beggars, the covetous and zealous—to live in a remote and desolate land where not a blade of grass grew, in thin,  icy air, buffeted by awesome storms and bitter winds?  Only one thing: Money.  Literally, tons of it.

In April of 1545, the Spanish arrived and claimed a red canonical mountain that turned out to be the richest silver lode ever discovered.  Despite the hostile natural environment, over the next century, the city attracted Indian and Spanish miners from all over the Altiplano and western South America.
At first, silver was so close to the surface that it had been exposed by erosion, and so pure that it hardly required refining.  And the riches were shared among all—Indian or Spanish—who worked the Cerro Rico (rich mountain).  Twenty percent of all that was taken was loaded on mules and llamas to make the three-week trip to the coast at Arica, where it was sent to the King of Spain. 

The city that grew up at the base of the mountain became a lovely Spanish place with a cathedral, monasteries and convents, palaces of noble (actual or pretended) Spaniards and their wives, a theater, and a mint to stamp coins, which came to be known as doubloons in the pirate adventure stories of our childhoods. 
The buildings were decorated by native artisans in a style called Mestizo Baroque: as ornate, complex and beautiful as Baroque churches in Rome or Vienna, but with motifs of jungle animals, exotic plants, and Indian faces. 
By 1650, however, the veins being exploited were deep in the mountain, and the mine owners required mercury to purify the silver.  To maintain the flow of wealth, the Spanish instituted a system of enforced labor called the mita, little different from, some say with no difference from slavery.  The work was so dangerous that tradition says, in the villages where men were impressed into the mita, their relatives played dirges for them as they marched away.
Potosí still exists as a city of 105,000.  In 1986, UNESCO declared it part of the Patrimony of Humanity.  Its architectural masterpieces have largely been restored and can be enjoyed by visitors.

Miners still work the Cerro Rico.  Until recently, they have taken mostly tin and copper from the mountain.  But the media have reported that lithium, perhaps the metal of the Twenty-first Century , has been discovered there.
The life of Potosí is about to change again.

Leighton for Annamaria - Saturday
Check out her web page here:


  1. The book was a highly readable and enjoyable mix of engrossing fiction and engrossing history.

    I know that often novels labeled as "historical", especially if they are really based on historical fact, are ignored because everyone knows that history is boring. This is the common opinion of people who haven't read an historical novel. A book like CITY OF SILVER shouldn't be confused with the bodice-rippers that get transformed into the cable television success THE TUDORS which completely ignored history. I never watched the show but it was publicized enough that I had to wonder why Showtime couldn't find a tall, well-built man with strawberry blonde hair to play the young Henry. There are enough portraits to prove that he was not a slim, dark-haired man at any point in his life.

    There are fantastic historical mysteries just waiting to be discovered. Lindsey Davis' Falco series set during the Roman Empire is historically accurate and funny. Moving from mysteries to adventure (of a sort), Dorothy Dunnett's Crawford of Lymond series are fantastic and accurate stories of the Tudors and Stuarts when Scotland was still independent of England. The first book in the series involves danger to the baby queen of Scotland, Mary Stuart.

    Those are just two of the terrific historical series available. I can list many more but I won't. Readers should do themselves a favor and leave the present and burrow into the past.

    I hope Annamaria/Patricia will give us the benefit of another glimpse into the past.


  2. Annamaria -- Welcome, and what a fascinating post -- beautifully illustrated, too. One of the things I love best about this site is that every day I have a chance to read something I know nothing at all about and (often) see something amazing.

    Is Potosi where that gigantic white lithium flat is located? Amazing natural structure. And Mestizo Baroque . . . my, my.

  3. Thank you, Beth. Obviously, I agree with you about historical novels in general, but also about Dorothy Dunnett's series, in particular. My friends and I went through her books with great speed and enjoyment.

    Tim, Solar de Uyuni--the salt flat-- is also in Bolivia, southwest of Potosi. Bolivia has been one of the poorest countries in South America. One hopes that the riches from lithium there and in Potosi will relieve some of the suffering.
    I agree WHOLEHEARTEDLY about this blog. I was introduced to it by Leighton and am now addicted. It has become my daily coffee break reading.
    Four of the photos in the post were taken by my husband on a trip that inspired the book. There are a couple more shots on my website, including a larger one of that Mestizo Baroque masterpiece--the doorway of the Church of San Luis de Potosi. Take a gander at it.