The subtitle of this book appears somewhat convoluted upon first reading. It's: "Or, The Interrupted Thought of Amerindian Civilisations.' Is this merely a poorly translated phrase, or is it just a piece of literary whimsy? The answer is neither, and by the time the reader reaches the end of this book, its meaning is clear.
Le Clezio's objective is to explore the fate and legacy (or lack of one) of those civilisations of the New World which the Old World cut off just as they were coming into their prime. Far from being a collection of savages, the Aztec and Mayan worlds were sophisticated urban societies, with their own notions of religion; philosophy and physics. In comparison, the barbarians were the Spanish, who melted down golden artefacts and destroyed their beautiful cities. The book documents this tragic meeting of two worlds, introducing the reader to a host of other forgotten cultures who lived on the edges of the Mexican world, including the Chichimeca; the Tarahumara; the Totonac and further North the tribes of North America. The author observes the connections between these doomed worlds, in the way they viewed nature, their span upon the earth, and their gods.
His reading of authors such as Sahagun and De Las Casas, as well as those few Mayan and Aztec texts which survived, allows him to establish a clear portrait of what was an evolving world view, contextualising the famous blood lust of the Aztecs, as well as divining the secret of their innate expectation of destruction, a prophesy which came to be fulfilled. At the same time, he stresses that these societies were still in the process of developing philosophies, philosophies which might, had they been allowed to flower, have evolved to rival or complement the complexity of Buddhism, or materialism. However, as observed, this never happened. The evolving thought processes were interrupted. This world where gods walked with men, and life was not part of a linear vision of time, but a circular one, was all but extinguished over the course of a single generation. And the loss to mankind as a whole, the author suggests, was greater than we shall ever be able to realise.