LITERARY LOCATION: Plaza Bolivar, Caracas. The cathedral at the intersection of Avenida Sur and Avenida Este 0 marks the spot where Diego de Losada founded the city of Santiago de Leon de Caracas.

Fluently trilingual in German, Spanish and English, Luisa Maria Celis came to Canada in 2000. Her debut novel in English, Arrows (Libros Libertad 2009), is the first novel to be written and published in English by a native of Venezuela. Arrows has been praised as a quintessential conquest novel for all the Americas. It's the riveting story of a young priest named Salvador Cepeda who accompanies conquistadors to the New World on his brother's ship in 1567 as part of an expedition led by Diego de Losada.

Salvador loses his innocence and yearns to regain his soul. The naïve and earnest protagonist is beset by misfortune and intense physical privation, including arrow wounds, but his spiritual crisis (witnessing genocide) amounts to his greatest struggle. Hence the Shakespearean quote from Hamlet as a signpost at the outset: "Whether 'tis nobler in the in the mind to suffer / The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune / Or to take arms against a sea of troubles / And by opposing end them.";

Halfway through the novel the increasingly disillusioned Franciscan friar falls in love with a down-to-earth Indian woman named Apacuana, mature at approximately fifteen years of age. These two fictional characters play active roles in well-researched historical events. "More of this story is true than most people will want to believe,"; the author has said, "which explains why I had to write it."; Celis consulted approximately ninety books over a nine-year period to complete the novel, and made four research trips from Canada.

For her depiction of indigenous peoples, Celis has used two native languages -- Cumanagoto and Panare -- both of which have been extensively studied and are still spoken. "Unfortunately, only a few sentences are recorded from the language spoken by the natives of the valley of Caracas,"; she says, "and most of their costumes are also lost. To recreate their way of life I researched the Panare and the Yanomami, though the latter are not Carib.";

Celis also incorporated verbatim records from the Inquisition and used phrases from the tortured and put them into Salvador's lips. The medicinal uses and methods described in the novel are faithful to the times.

Celis studied St. Francis as a role model for Salvador and researched the Franciscan Order of pious priests known as Observants, while consulting the Vulgata version of the Bible in Spanish.

Most of the conquistadors in Arrows are based on historical figures. Diego de Losada was born in 1511 in the province of Rio Negro in Spain. He came to the New World at age 22 and arrived in Venezuela at age 33, participating in various founding expeditions.

Losada's expedition to the Caracas valley began in January of 1567. The chieftain Guacaipuro was killed around the outset of 1569 and his final words have been recorded. Battles scenes are embellished accounts, based on records kept by the Spaniards, who impaled of chieftains' heads on sticks to assert their superiority. There is no set date for the battle of Maracapana, described in the novel, but it is known that it happened shortly after Caracas was founded on July 25, 1567.

The romance angle is secondary in the plot, but gathers momentum as the story slowly builds to its climax. Arrows is not for the prudish. Should Salvador be chiefly loyal to Apacuana, his Spanish comrades, his beloved older brother Bartolomé (a worldly extrovert who has always protected him) or to God?

Few copies of Arrows reached bookstores when it was published by a small literary press in B.C. It was never marketed east of the Rockies. The story is actually Volume II of a projected trilogy about two brothers during the Spanish conquest of the Caribbean. Nine months after it was printed by a small West Coast press, the author regained publishing rights. She subsequently rewrote the novel in its entirety, then had it republished in Spanish with a new title, Misionero de Neuvo Mundo (Caracas: Editorial Alfa 2012). The novel was well received in Caracas, where it was printed, but marketing beyond Venezuela was minimal.

Mother of two grown sons, Luisa Maria Celis [pronounced "sell-ees";] works as a property manager in southern Vancouver Island. Her companion novel to Misionero de Nuevo Mundo will tell the life story of Salvador's bold and less spritual brother Bartolomé.

[Author photo by Laura Sawchuk]

[BCBW 2016] "Spanish" "Fiction"