Naked in the Landscape

Motivated by Earl D. at, who generously has named Aglow the current featured title for the #clothesfreereaders book club, I’d like to share some more information about how I came to write the novel. The text below is an abbreviated version of the “Afterword” you can find at the end of the book, with Wikipedia hyperlinks for general interest. *There are no spoilers* 🙂

Few places hold my fascination as strongly as Mexico and Brazil. I’ve experienced their inexhaustibly rich cultures and landscapes, and the exceptional warmth and passion of their peoples. I decided to set a novel in both countries with a plot about lost documents from the time of the European ‘conquest.’ As I became more immersed in background research for Aglow, I realized I wanted to incorporate several myths, like El Dorado and Tamoanchan, the Fountain of Youth and the Iara, alongside historical figures like Palafox and Anchieta. But the crux of it, I realized, would involve plausible conjecture about indigenous forms of knowledge that the Spaniards and Portuguese either would not have understood, or would have condemned outright as barbarities. Such knowledge base, moreover, needed to include, or even depend on, the particular range of possibilities open to the human body when nude.
In all of the Americas before European contact, a writing system had only been invented once that we know of, in Mesoamerica. Since the Europeans had already developed relatively widespread writing practices centuries earlier, and even adopted the printing press during the time of colonization of the Americas, the written word held, in their esteem, a special and even sacred place in the construction and safekeeping of knowledge. But for many preliterate cultures, knowledge was mostly stored in bodies. People transmitted memories of important facts or practices through a repertoire of bodily productions such as dance, cooking and hunting procedures, initiation ceremonies, rhythmic chanting, the rhymes and epithets of storytelling and song, etc. The Europeans almost uniformly viewed these practices as primitive, or ignorant, or even demonic—we now know, of course, that had the Europeans been a bit more curious and less quick to condemn, there is much more native knowledge that could have been retained about plants, agriculture, the landscape, etc.—knowledge that had been accumulated and passed on over centuries.
An Awá family, Brazilian Amazon. Photo by Sebastião Salgado.
Naturism” is a modern term coined in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Europe and used worldwide today. It is defined by the INF (International Naturist Federation) as “a way of life in harmony with nature characterized by the practice of communal nudity with the intention of encouraging self-respect, respect for others and for the environment.” All human societies have contexts for communal nudity. My interest in this novel is to complicate the European stereotype of the naked “savage” through the characters of Amana and Sun Prince, iconoclasts who lived their lives against the grain of the Aztec, Inca, and Muisca textile social structures. The two of them not only embody the voices of dissent in their respective adopted cultures, but also they do so through what can be seen as a kind of proto-naturism originating in their own, more nude-friendly, home cultures – the Huastec of the Mexican Gulf Coast (Sun Prince) and the Tupi-speaking peoples of the central Amazon (Amana). 

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