I always feel it is my good fortune to find myself reading books that allow some meandering off down the trail away from my normal route, new thoughts, new ideas and waiting for me when I returned from holiday was a very brief e mail from Souvenir Press asking if I would be interested in reading some of their list.
Googled as usual and not a lot came to light, so with little idea about their list I said yes please.
One day this is going to get me into serious trouble and a stack of complete unsuitables will appear on the doorstep, but by return I had a letter of introduction, a catalogue and a neat little book to get me started.
The Souvenir Press list by the way is as eclectic and varied as you could ever wish to find.
Ernest Hecht has run it for fifty-six years, remained independent and continues to come up with fantastic titles.
He's also a football fanatic of which I approve wholeheartedly but an Arsenal fan, which isn't his fault.
The Marvellous Adventure of Cabeza de Vaca by Haniel Long couldn't have come at a better time.
It's not often I set foot in the land of the conquistadores but I just had, however briefly and so if nothing else I knew about the scorching heat though I did get slightly more to eat than poor old Cabeza.
Haniel Long, a poet born in Myanmar in 1888, died in Santa Fe in 1956 and this novella is his best known work. Likened both to Khalil Gibran's The Prophet and Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince (there's a book I've yet to read) it is a tiny gem of a book.
Haniel Long takes the true story of a group of Spanish soldiers washed ashore in the Gulf of Mexico, it is thought near Galveston, from where they spent eight years travelling across North America finding their way home. What they endured defies belief but what they learnt about themselves and their fellow man was worth any amount of Inca gold.
This edition has an introduction by Haniel Long who has garnished this story with his own eloquent narrative that seeps around you and into every pore.It's the most humbling of reads
"Possibly the capacity to survive depends on courage of spirit to accept one's fate"
Translated for me that means simplistically, you can't change what has happened so get on with it, and I spend a great deal of time at the day job explaining that to people in the nicest possible way. Often couching it very gently but once you have your head around that premise you can perhaps move on rather than dwell.
Also a preface by Henry Miller full of bright shining insights that bring the narrative alive for a 21st century reader.
For him Cabeza de Vaca's central message was his transformation from ruthless warrior to idealist
" I shall teach the world how to conquer by gentleness, not by slaughter"
Reduced to the barest existence, hardships that defy belief, a diet of powdered straw at best - colleagues at worst (or perhaps that should be the other way round?) and inexorably separated from "the thoughts that clothe the soul of the European", Cabeza de Vaca is stripped and reclothed eloquently at the pen of Haniel Long into a man who sees that to relinquish individual responsibility is to lose one's humanity
"The power of maintaining life in others lives within each of us, and from each of us does it recede when unused"
The novella itself the most powerfully condensed amount of humility and wisdom you are ever likely to find crammed into a mere thirty-nine pages and having read it twice I know I'll read it again.
Looking forward to more Souvenir Press titles if Mr Hecht forgives that cheap Arsenal jibe.