Maia (Teresa) Wojciechowska Alden T. Vaughan - Essay

Alden T. Vaughan

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The exploits of the Spanish conquistadors are not always considered proper fare for children's books: the truth about them is too harsh, too cruel, too immoral. Maia Wojciechowska,… faces the facts squarely in ["Odyssey of Courage: The Story of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca"] her brief, vigorous biography of the man who first explored much of the area that became the southern United States and who later served as Spanish Governor of Paraguay.

The story is not a pretty one. The Spanish explorers and settlers display the full range of human crimes and vices: avarice and treachery, murder and slavery—even cannibalism. Yet over-shadowing all the brutality and terror are the courage, fortitude and humanity of Cabeza de Vaca. Almost alone Cabeza practiced Christian ethics in a part of the 16th-century world that paid lip service to God, but worshiped gold….

Miss Wojciechowska has based most of her book on Cabeza de Vaca's own "Relation," from which she quotes often and effectively. She employs imaginary dialogue skillfully if sometimes fancifully. "Odyssey of Courage," part fact, part plausible fiction, makes a fascinating, often shocking story of one man's courage in the face of appalling physical hardships and human opposition.

Alden T. Vaughan, in his review of "Odyssey of Courage: The Story of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1965 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 13, 1965, p. 24.