Spanish Lit Month: The Nautical Chart by Arturo Perez-Reverte

The story opens in Barcelona, with our hero Manuel Coy attending an auction. It isn’t that he has money to spend, or a particular item he yearns to possess. It’s that he’s bored, and restless, and a little lost ever since being suspended for grounding the forty-thousand-ton-container-ship, Isla Negra, on his watch.
Right away, I was entranced by Coy. How it is that a sailor can resemble a cowboy, and here I’m comparing Coy to Owen Wister’s The Virginian, I’m not quite sure. But they both have an integrity defined by what they judge to be right. They’re both independent, and brave, and loathe to follow rules for rules’ sake. 
Coy’s attention is caught between two bidders, who each seem to be fighting for an Atlas Maritimo de las Costas de Espana, the work of Urrutia Salcedo. One bidder is a beautiful blonde, covered with freckles; the other is a man in a ponytail who ultimately succumbs after her bid at five times the opening price.
What is it about this map, this woman, this gray pony-tailed man who have grabbed Coy’s attention? He is determined to find out, as he travels from Barcelona in search for the woman, Tanger Soto, who works for the Museo Naval in Madrid.
Apparently a Jesuit ship, the Dei Gloria, was attacked by a xebec corsair on February 4, 1767. The pirate ship did not expect the Dei Gloria to fight back, which it did, and ultimately both sank. But the Urrutia map seems to hold the location where the Dei Gloria lays, and it is this ship that Tanger wants desperately to find. 
Why? And why is the gray ponytailed man in pursuit of her and the ship himself? This is the core of the mystery, a mystery which becomes more and more intriguing as one continues through the novel. But, more fascinating to me is the character of Coy. He is a mystery in and of himself, a man of the sea and a reader as well.
The books that he reads are all relevant to ships. Sailing. Sea. He tells us he has gone through a Conrad period, a Stevenson period, and a Melville period. But soon after that passage, I began recording the titles and authors that Perez-Reverez includes in this spectacular novel. Because if they’re important enough to mention in his work of fiction, they’re important to me to know more about.
The titles Perez-Reverte has included in The Nautical Chart are:
Thunderball by Ian Fleming
The Alexandria Quartet by Durrell
Mutiny on The Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
Men Against the Sea by Charles Nordhoff and James Normal Hall
Pitcairn’s Island by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
The Death Ship by B. Traven
The Inheritors by William Golding
The Mirror of The Sea by Joseph Conrad
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad 
Green Fire by Peter William Rainer
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
The Dain Curse by Dashiell Hammett
The Adventures of Tintin by (Belgian cartoonist) Herge
The Secret of the Unicorn by Herge
Red Rackam’s Treasure by Herge
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Internationally acclaimed author Arturo Perez-Reverte was born on November 25, 1951 in Spain, where he lives. He has been a member of the Spanish Royal Academy since 2003. His best selling books have been translated into nineteen languages in thirty countries and have sold millions of copies.

14 thoughts on “Spanish Lit Month: The Nautical Chart by Arturo Perez-Reverte”

  1. I remember liking this book when I read it a few years ago, especially the idea that different maps have different meridians depending on when they were drawn. But then I like maps. I never thought to write out all the books mentioned in this novel like you did, what a good idea. Makes me want to reread this book. Great post! Have you read any of Perez-Reverte's other books? I think the Flanders Panel is my favorite.


  2. This is the first book by Perez-Reverte that I've read, and I must say that I'm impressed. It's one thing to write an engaging mystery, and completely another to create characters I want to befriend. Good memory about the maps and varying Prime Meridians! I didn't include that because I was loathe to give too much away. Also, glad you liked the list of books I listed from this one. I love it when authors do that, so that I have yet another source for books (like one needs more!). Anyway,mthanks for suggesting Flanders Panel. I'd only heard of The Seville Communion and The Club Dumas besides this one.


  3. Your review is timely for me. I have been craving mysteries of this kind and also I am studying Spanish and wanted something that could reinforce that even if in a very superficial way. I have read the Alexandria Quartet and loved it, but I wouldn't have necessarily said it had much to do with the sea–although it is set in the coastal Egyptian city of Alexandria.


  4. Thomas, I can't even say how astonishing this mystery is at the end (or I would clearly ruin the plot for everyone), but it has given me much to think about. Besides “merely” Spain and a search for sunken treasure. What remains a mystery, perhaps for most of us, has to do with interpersonal relationships and deepest motivations. Why do we do the things we do? Is it possible to live without irrevocably disappointing someone? These questions are at the novel's core.


  5. I read “The Flanders Panel” and also “The Club Dumas” by Perez-Reverte and loved them both. I wasn't aware of this book, but it is going on my list this very moment.


  6. Having just re-read and written about The Alexandria Quartet, it makes perfect sense that it should have been included in the list. The seas surrounding Crete and Alexandria are as much a part of the story as the City herself.

    Otherwise, nearly every book included in your list has special meaning for me. Some connections are “real” — for example, I've been diving in Thunderball cave. Others were opened to me by professors who understood the human heart, and how the books were related to the heart's deepest longings. As for “Moby Dick,” I've long seen Ahab as a perfect representative of so many around us today, those whom I describe to myself as having an infinite grudge against the universe. Besides, as Annie Dillard says, “It is no less difficult to write a sentence in a recipe than sentences in Moby Dick. So you might as well write Moby Dick.”

    Clearly, “Nautical Chart” is a book I need to read.


  7. I realized that the only other book by him I've read is The Queen of The South. It was great. Now I'll have to find The Flanders Panel and The Club Dumas. Thanks for your input, Beth.


  8. I have not been interested in this author or this book, but your review changes my mind about that. This book sounds very interesting, and a good place to start. I like that list of books.


  9. I have not only not read The Alexandria Quartet, I'd never heard of it before this novel. I'm still trying to get to Moby Dick! Glad you are interested in it, though, Linda. I'm telling you, it just gets better and better until the conclusion.

    Love the quote from Annie Dillard; applicable to so much in life.


  10. I haven't heard of this author, I don't know much about Spanish lit anyway, so your review sounds very interesting.

    On top of that, the list of nautical books is just awesome. I love nautical books and have already read most on that list, will now add the rest to my TBR.

    Also, Tintin? Have you read them? Those comics are just fabulous! The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure was one of my childhood favorites. Love this list for including these as well.


  11. I am so surprised by the reaction to all the titles listed in this post. While many of them were unfamiliar to me, they certainly weren't to all you fine readers! I'd love to find editions it Tintin to read to my class. Thanks for sharing your memories.


  12. Great post, Bellezza. I haven't read anything by this author, but I'm very interested in that list of books – such a diverse selection from Tintin to Conrad to Dashiell Hammett to Moby Dick! Did the story reveal any other meaning behind the chosen books, aside from the shipping theme?


  13. In a loose way, the themes of these books mirrored the characters, and some of the plot, in The Nautical Chart. Of course there were specific references to Moby Dick, which I really want to read, as well as to The Maltese Falcon and Red Rackham. Interesting how all the sea books seem to flow together, by theme I guess. But this author writes fabulous mysteries.


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