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LatAm in Focus: Marie Arana Talks Silver, Sword, and Stone

Marie Arana

Marie Arana. (Paula Abreu Pita/Roey Yohai Studios)

October 10, 2019

Award-winning author @aranama followed a Peruvian gold scavenger, a Cuban war veteran, and a Spanish priest in her new book on the history of mining, violence, and religion in Latin America. Hear her talk with AS/COA Online’s @CarinZissis on #LatAmFocus.
“I needed to fuse history with journalism to show in what ways those ancient ghosts are still in the machinery.”—@aranama, author of Silver, Sword & Stone. Listen to our #LatAmFocus episode with the former editor-in-chief of Washington Post's Book World.

“In the stinging cold, just before dawn, Leonor González leaves her stone hut on a glacial mountain peak in the Peruvian Andes to trudge up a path and scour rock spills for flecks of gold.” So begins award-winning author Marie Arana’s latest book, Silver, Sword, and Stone: Three Crucibles in the Latin American Story. The book takes the readers from pre-Columbian times through the region’s conquest, independence movements, dirty wars, and right up to the present. In doing so, it explores three driving forces in the region’s history: mining, violence, and religion. 

Arana traces the history of these three areas through the stories of contemporary Latin Americans: Leonor, a widow scrambling to care for her family in a mining town at an altitude of 18,000 feet; Carlos, who a Cuban who came to the United States in the Mariel boatlift; and Xavier, a Spanish priest who made Bolivia his home. “I felt that if I could just pull that history into the present and find people who lived today who actually mirror that history, I thought that would be the way to go. And I was very lucky. I found those three people,” Arana explains to AS/COA Online’s Carin Zissis in this episode.

“You could go through history asking for apologies and never stop.

The book not only uncovers the connections over time but across countries. For example, Arana delves into commonalities among the conquistadores, such as that they came from the same parts of Spain or were even related. For example, Hernán Cortés and Francisco Pizarro were distant cousins and the former shared what he learned conquering the Aztecs with the latter, who went on to lead the conquest of the Incas. “That sort of kind of relationship that comes from…fifteenth-century Spain still lives on today and in so many ways is fundamentally part of a whole corrupt scheme that cripples us in so many ways,” says Arana. 

“I knew in my heart of hearts that the history explains so much. But the way that I needed to make it persuasive was to fuse history with journalism, to show in what ways those ancient ghosts were still in the machinery,” says the Peruvian-American writer, who was the longtime editor-in-chief of The Washington Post’s Book World literary review section. Arana, who joined AS/COA for an October 8 book presentation, is also the author of Bolivar, which won the 2014 Los Angeles Times Book Prize; two novels, Cellophane and Lima Nights; and the memoir and National Book Award finalist American Chica

Luisa Leme produced this episode. The music in this podcast was performed at Americas Society in New York. Learn more about upcoming concerts at