The lush and tranquil island of Sipan, just off the southern Dalmatian coast, envelopes visitors with an aura of a forgotten past and few people are unchanged by their stay here. Andrew Smyth’s gripping historical thriller is inspired by the true story of an island family and of their mansion that still remains.
It follows a young boy’s voyages across the world from his home in Sipan to the dusty nitrate fields of the Tarapaca desert on the West Coast of South America. Squeezed between the mountains and the sea, the Croatian coastline has an unbreakable and enduring bond with the oceans’ trade: Dalmatian forests provided the timber; Dalmatian dockyards built the ships; and Dalmatian families supplied the crews. Milo Beran is making rapid progress at Sipan s makeshift school, but when his father is dismissed by the estate’s feudal landlord, Milo can no longer escape an islander’s destiny.
Forced to leave his home and his studies, he is plunged into the harshness of life at sea in the 1860s. After jumping ship in Peru, he is thrown into jail in the venal guano port of Callao where he is rescued by a local landowner. Making extensive use of contemporary reports of seafarers lives, Caesar’s Passage tells the story of Milo’s exploration of the desiccated lake-beds of the high Andes the only place in the world where Chile saltpetre is found.
In this desolate place, where rain never falls, Milo stakes his future on a commodity which was to become one of the most important of Victorian trade, and one which fuelled the growth not just of South America, but of British capitalism itself. Andrew Smyth’s captivating first novel weaves an authentic and breathlessly exhilarating adventure of family and fortune amid the raw forces of emerging Victorian capitalism.
Caesar’s Passage was shortlisted for The Author’s Club Best First Novel Award.