An ambitious and highly entertaining novel of revisionist history from the author of the international bestseller HHhH, Laurent Binet's Civilizations is nothing less than a strangely believable counterfactual history of the modern world, fizzing with ideas about colonization, empire-building, and the eternal human quest for domination. It is an electrifying novel by one of Europe's most exciting writers.
Freydis is a woman warrior and leader of a band of Viking explorers setting out to the south. They meet local tribes, exchange skills, are taken prisoner, and get as far as Panama. But nobody ultimately knows what became of them.
Fast forward five hundred years to 1492 and we're reading the journals of Christopher Columbus, mid-Atlantic on his own famous voyage of exploration to the Americas, dreaming of gold and conquest. But he and his men are taken captive by Incas. Even as their suffering increases, his faith in his superiority, and in his mission, is unshaken.
Thirty years later, Atahualpa, the last Inca emperor, arrives in Europe in the ships stolen from Columbus. He finds a continent divided by religious and dynastic quarrels, the Spanish Inquisition, Luther's Reformation, capitalism, the miracle of the printing press, endless warmongering between the ruling monarchies, and constant threat from the Turks. But most of all he finds downtrodden populations ready for revolution. Fortunately, he has a recent bestseller as a guidebook to acquiring power—Machiavelli's The Prince. The stage is set for a Europe ruled by Incas and Aztecs, and for a great war that will change history forever.
“At once a profoundly thoughtful book and a very playful one . . . Civilizations is a page-turner. Credit here goes to both Binet and his translator, Sam Taylor, whose English prose is clipped, opinionated, and vivid . . . Civilizations is a serious success, in every sense of the word serious. If you read one novel this fall, make it this.”
—Lily Meyer, NPR
“Glorious . . . Beneath the simple pleasure of a good story well told—and superbly translated by Sam Taylor—runs Binet’s signature brand of high-concept playfulness . . . He is a writer as interested in history as he is in playing with it, and a joker of the most intellectual variety . . . [Civilizations] is his best book yet: the work of a major writer just hitting his stride.”
—Tim Smith-Laing, The Telegraph (Best Books of the Year)
“An alternate history novel for the ages.”
—K.W. Colyard, Bustle (Most Anticipated)
“Civilizations exists on a whole different tier of ambition . . . You can sense how much fun Binet is having, rearranging the cultural collage and inverting the power dynamics.”
—Michael LaPointe, The Times Literary Supplement
“Tremendous fun . . . A world-historical version of the parlour game where you assemble a fantasy dinner party from the past.”
—Sam Leith, The Guardian
“In a mix of historical characters (including Columbus and Cervantes) and fictional ones, Binet really lets himself imagine another world so different from our own, and it’s easy to get lost in his storytelling.”
—Emily Burack, Alma (Best Books of Fall)
“A bold and thrilling experiment in counterfactual history from a masterful storyteller.”
—Ángel Gurría-Quintana, Financial Times
“This translation of Binet’s ambitious work imagines a fascinating alternate universe where colonialism turned out rather differently . . . Recommended for all fans of what-ifs in history.”
—Sarah Rice, Booklist
“A daring and often delightful counterfactual history of transatlantic conquest . . . [Civilizations] ingeniously configures a new framework of colonialism, with Mexico dominating the new world. Binet delights with his imaginative powers.”