by Ann Nolan Clark
Interests: Peru, Inca, South America, mountains, animals, mysteryViking Press: 1952
130 pp., 17 chapters
Also by this author: Magic Money, Looking-For-Something, In My Mother’s House,
Next: Tales From Silver Lands (S. American folktales)
Raised by an old llama herder named Chuto in a hidden valley in the mountains of Peru, young Cusi has never left the valley, never even seen another human being. When a family moves into the valley below the herd, it starts a chain of events and Chuto finally leads Cusi out of the valley to see the outside world. The boy learns that he is descended from Incan royalty, and Chuto is training him for a secret duty, but all he longs for is a family. Cusi walks to the city of Cuzco to find his heart’s desire, but soon realizes that his home is up in the hidden valley with the llamas. He returns and Chuto reveals the golden secret of the valley.
This book unfolds at a slow pace, slower than many readers these days will stand for, but the boy Cusi patiently learns, bit by bit, the secret of where he came from. He is most human when longing for a family, but otherwise he is almost too patient, too obedient to the teachings of his friend and master. After a slow first half, the last part of the book is more eventful and unwraps a wise and satisfying answer to the mystery.
Details of shepherd life in the mountains, and the nail-biting path they must take to leave the hidden valley are interesting, and I particularly liked the details about llama herding, and the relationship Cusi has with the animals. Though this story is set in the 20th century, their traditional way of life in the mountains is simple and timeless. The secret of the vanquished Incan people, and the sad story of their defeat may inspire readers to find out more about the earlier history of Peru.
A fascinating and mysterious look at the legends of the Inca, and an interesting look at people living in the traditional way in modern times. The story moves slowly and thoughtfully to a quietly satisfying finish.
(That said, I found it a good but not great book, considering it bested E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web for the Newbery Medal of 1953.)
NB. There is a film with the same title, but it is entirely unrelated to this book.