Every effort was made to make A Storm Hits Valparaíso historically accurate, but as a work of fiction, it should be understood that many elements are invented. The historical record is imperfect, and a novelist must go to work in these gaps. We are not free to invent as we choose, we must preserve the authenticity that is a crucial part of the bond between writer and reader, and great care is taken to ensure such inventions tally with the known record. In some places, however, minor alterations were necessary to make the story function, and they are fully listed below.
In certain cases, more significant changes were necessary. Argentina was known as “The Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata” before independence and “The United Provinces of the Rio de la Plata” afterwards, and neither, as you can see, quite rolls off the tongue. For the sake of simplicity, and to avoid confusion, “Argentina” is used throughout. It wasn’t an unknown term then, and documents dating three hundred years previous use that name to describe the area; it’s not too much of a leap. Bolivia’s original name however – Upper Peru – is preserved to prevent the obvious anachronism of its modern name being named after Simón Bolívar.
While many of the characters in this book are real, historical figures, some are my own creation. Generally, if a character is exclusively referred to by their first name (Zé, Catalina, Diego, Pacha, Jorge), they are fictional, and by their surname (San Martín, Cochrane, O’Brien, Bissel, O’Higgins, Bolívar), historical. In some cases, like that of Padre Beltran, the man is real, and the deeds are accurate, but the personality is largely my invention (and he was, in fact, a monk rather than a priest).
There is some evidence to suggest that San Martín didn’t “desert” as such from the Spanish Army (Chapter 5), but rather requested leave of absence to tend to family affairs. Naturally, he didn’t inform Madrid of his intention to join the independence movement; in any event, there was more than a little deception involved and his subsequent actions would have made him a traitor in their eyes (and indeed his plotting would have been tantamount to treason before his “desertion”). There is evidence to suggest he was smuggled out of Cadiz by British intelligence (sympathetic to the idea of independence for the South American colonies which would open up trade which Spain monopolized). He may also have stayed up to four months in London. The time was condensed for narrative purposes (Chapter 12), but the wariness San Martín felt towards British intentions was very real. The house where he stayed still stands on Park Road, as does the house on 58 Grafton Way where he met with his fellow revolutionaries–the same house that Bolivar lived in when he was petitioning the British for help prior to San Martín’s arrival. It’s now owned by the Venezuelan Embassy– housed in the building next door–and open to the public.
While the account of Cochrane’s court-martial (Chapter 9) is accurate, and while excellent records exist of the Naval Chronicle, the excerpt is strictly my invention, although the court’s decision is quoted verbatim. The conversation between Lt. Bissel and the other crewman during Cochrane’s voyage to Malta is an invention, but the anecdotes are accurate descriptions of the historical record. Cochrane’s adventures may seem unbelievable, but all of them are true. In fact, so as not to stretch the credulity of the reader, many escapades had to be omitted. His life story is worth reading in full, and Robert Harvey’s book “Cochrane” is highly recommended. The conversations in Malta are also invented, but, again, all of the events are accurately depicted. In fact, this goes for most of the dialogue in the book, apart from notable scenes such as the confrontation between Cochrane and Admiral Gambier (Chapter 2), the meeting of San Martín and O’Higgins after Maipú (Chapter 49), San Martín’s retort to the Captain General of Chile after Chacabuco (Chapter 47), as well as the confrontations between San Martín & O’Higgins, San Martín & Brayer, and parts of some of the confrontations between San Martín & Cochrane. In addition, all letters and newspaper articles are real, unless noted otherwise here.
The Great Stock Exchange Fraud of 1814 (Chapters 28, 29 & 31), for which Cochrane was convicted, is still a matter of some dispute, with the participants themselves, as well as assorted descendants, all penning vigorous defenses. Cochrane’s account is by far the most believable and I have attempted to represent that in the novel. Random de Berenger was indeed named so and witnesses in Cochrane’s employ who could have provided crucial corroboration as to what Monsieur de Berenger was wearing when he called to Cochrane’s house on the day in question were spirited away by the Royal Navy under dubious pretenses.
A lot of this book is based on history which is disputed. South American history is extremely controversial and has been the subject of much revision and mythologizing, often on national or factional grounds. The relationship between Bernardo O’Higgins and the Carrera brothers (Ch. 33) is something that is still hotly debated today. I’ve tried to represent events based on my own impartial reading of history, but impartiality won’t mean that nobody acted poorly, or selfishly, or deviously.
The meeting in Guayaquil, however, is a special case. While the meeting occurred, history can tell us little about what was said in that room. All we know is the result. The rest has been a matter of extremely heated debate for some time (usually along national lines), and I’m sure will continue to be debated as long as these events are remembered. I tried to base my account on what we know of the personalities of both men, their goals, their manner, their situations at that exact moment, as well as the (scant) mentions both men made afterwards in correspondence etc. However, parts of the conversation – necessarily – are pure fantasy. It might not be the most flattering portrait of Bolivar, but I don’t think that was his finest moment. However, it doesn’t alter my opinion of the man and his great achievements, and he shouldn’t be judged on that episode alone (and certainly not a fictional account of it). The gift of the portrait, and the scene at the banquet afterwards, however, are part of the historical record.