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Saturday, August 8, 2015

Buccaneers of America by Alexander O. Exquemelin - Pirates Don't Say "Aargh."


Pros: Want to know about pirates from the view of someone who was there?
Cons: If you were hoping for something more story-like, this isn?t it.

The Bottom Line: Find out about the true pirates of the Caribbean!

After Wicked Charms, I figured I might as well post a piratey book, and since this review never made it to this blog during my time in college in which I took a historical course about pirates (that is not a joke - I really did), now is the best time.

Some say he was French. Others say he was Dutch. However, the fact remains that Alexander O. Exquemelin provides us with a handsome dish of pirate stories, many of which might make you think twice about all that Disney stuff.

A pirate’s life for me!

Yeah, screw that.

My copy is a translation by Alexis Brown, with an introduction from Jack Beeching. As most introductions go, the reader is given an overview of piracy and a bit of history of the times in which the chronicles by Exquemelin fall into. The introduction also gives a bit of history on Exquemelin himself – or at least what can be found about him. From there the book goes right into Exquemelin’s story, which is broken up into three main parts, and from there broken into chapters. Here, as is on the page itself, is what the three parts contain:

Part One
How the French came to Hispaniola; the nature of the country and life of the inhabitants.
Part Two
The origin of the buccaneers; their rules and way of life; various attacks on the Spaniards.
Part Three
The burning of Panama City by the English and French buccaneers, together with an account of a further voyage by the author.

Each part tells you exactly what is listed above – only in greater detail. In Part One Exquemelin describes how he came to the Caribbean, gives the reader a quick history lesson about the French vs. the Spanish when it comes to the island of Tortuga (yes, it was real), describes the island of Hispaniola, including its trees, fruits, animals, etc. (and I do mean describe), as well as the French hunters and planters that live there. The final few chapters give you everything you ever needed to know about buccaneers – who they were, how they began, and why they turned to piracy. You even get to find out where the word “buccaneer” came from! Now isn’t this interesting?

Though the first section can get a little boring from time to time, don’t worry too much because the second section gets into the actual piracy, dealing with captains and such. The reader is introduced to a French pirate by the name of Francois l’Olannais and all of his exploits, from raiding Spanish fleets to sacking and ransoming various towns. L’Olannais wasn’t a very nice guy by the way, and neither were his men, which makes for some interesting reading. After knowing l’Olannais’s fate, the next captain, Henry Morgan comes into play. Is this where the famous Captain Morgan comes from? Haha, who knows!

However, I will say that Morgan was a lot more successful than l’Olannais ever was. He had great pirating skills and managed to attack (with great success) several places – including one that might sound familiar to you…Panama anyone? Here is where you can read of the taking of a fort without firing a single shot, escaping Spanish warships, and see lists of the booty they managed to steal. Good times to be a pirate under Morgan’s leadership – and you’d probably be surprised at the number of men and ships he had following him at one point in time. Bet it’s something you’d never guess when it comes to pirates! I was certainly surprised! Much of this is mentioned in the second and then third sections, the break right between campaigns by Morgan.

The remainder of the third section, Exquemelin has broken off from Morgan’s group and set off with some others sailing from island to island and encountering various things, such as hostile natives, friendly natives, and manatees (which apparently taste like pork). The final chapter is a short account of the governor of Tortuga, who tries his hand at piracy and barely succeeds.

And that is where the book ends. Yes, it may seem abrupt, but one must remember, this wasn’t made to be a story with a plot – it is an account of a man’s life and the things he encountered and/or heard about during his time in the Caribbean. So does that make it suck? No! This is more historical than anything, and quite all right. It’s not like it leaves you on some kind of cliffhanger.

But, interesting though it may be, it can get a little tiresome with nothing but Exquemelin’s descriptions to go by. Are you an author who is confused about showing and telling? Well, this is a perfect example of telling. There is next to no dialogue and the battles aren’t quite as exciting as they have potential for. As I said though, it is more historical, though that whole concept might put some readers off. As for myself, it was a required book for a pirate class I’m taking (yes, they do offer those), and when compared to other text books one might have to read, this rocked.

Oh, and no one ever says “Arg!” in here either.

NT

Originally published on Epinions.com.

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