Form and Content

Balboa: Finder of the Pacific is technically a biography, as it relates most of the important events in the life of a famous figure, but Sir Ronald Syme has created a narrative that resembles an adventure story more than a personal documentary. Rather than beginning at Vasco Núñez de Balboa’s birth or tracing his family background, the story starts with a scene between the seventeen-year-old Balboa and his father at the point in his life when Balboa’s career as an explorer began. The ensuing narrative follows his life by marking out the stages of that career: It is in Balboa the explorer only that Syme is interested.

A brief book with large print and generous pictures—some spanning two pages—Balboa is relatively quick reading. The brevity is enhanced by the smoothness and immediacy of the style. Rather than relate facts such as names, dates, places, and historical context, Syme tells smaller stories within the larger story of Balboa’s life. In sequences that are obviously fictionalized, he creates scenes from the explorer’s life, complete with dialogue and quite detailed visual descriptions. The dialogue is phrased with the formal rhetoric that characterized the more hierarchical society of sixteenth century Spain, and the scenic descriptions are filled with emotive power. Rather than make introductory statements about characters as they are introduced, Syme uses the nuances of dialogue, behavior, and action to define them....

(The entire section is 489 words.)