A Pre-Columbian Bestiary: Fantastic Creatures of Indigenous Latin America by Ilan Stavans, Eko

A Pre-Columbian Bestiary: Fantastic Creatures of Indigenous Latin America by Eko, Ilan Stavans
Published by Penn State University Press on 10/30/2020
Genres: Informational, Nonfiction
Pages: 116
Format: ARC, eBook
Source: Edelweiss
Purchase on: Amazon// Barnes & Noble
Add to: Goodreads

I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


An encyclopedic collaboration between award-winning Mexican American scholar Ilan Stavans and illustrator Eko, A Pre-Columbian Bestiary features lively and informative descriptions of forty-six religious, mythical, and imaginary creatures from the Nahua, Aztec, Maya, Tabasco, Inca, Aymara, and other cultures of Latin America. From the siren-like Acuecuéyotl and the water animal Chaac to the class-conscious Oc and the god of light and darkness Xólotl, the magnificent entities in this volume belong to the same family of real and invented creatures imagined by Dante, Franz Kafka, C. S. Lewis, Jorge Luis Borges, Umberto Eco, and J. K. Rowling. They are mined from indigenous religious texts, like the Popol Vuh, and from chronicles, both real and fictional, of the Spanish conquest by Diego Durán, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, and Fernando de Zarzamora, among others. In this playful compilation, Stavans distills imagery from the work of magic realist masters such as Juan Rulfo and Gabriel García Márquez; from songs of protest in Mexico, Guatemala, and Peru; and from aboriginal beasts in Jewish, Muslim, European, British, and other traditions. In the spirit of imaginative invention, even the bibliography is a mixture of authentic and concocted material. An inspiring record of resistance and memory from a civilization whose superb pantheon of myths never ceases to amaze, A Pre-Columbian Bestiary will delight anyone interested in the history and culture of Latin America.


I am honestly pretty disappointed with A Pre-Columbian Bestiary by Ilan Stavans and illustrated by Eko. It feels almost as though this is a book that couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. It includes mythical creatures, but also creatures like grasshoppers. The illustrations are great, but black and white. Honestly, it feels like a book with a strong premise that falters into a clunky coffee table book.

What makes reviewing this so difficult is that I cannot even critique it as a reference book because it isn’t. It gives a quick blurb, not even an overview, just a blurb about the creature. Then, it quotes another piece of literature or media that references, no matter how vaguely, the creature before quickly moving on to the next creature. Nothing is touched upon in depth. The only information I came out of this with was how the death eater symbol may have been inspired by one of these fantastical creatures.

I’m not sure who the target audience would be, but I don’t think I can recommend A Pre-Columbian Bestiary.


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