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An Interview with George Rios

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George Rios

George J. Rios’ Book, Masters of the Sea: The Adventures of Jules Verne’s Mathias Sandorf, published by iUniverse

George Rios has provided a brilliant and creative adaptation of Jules Verne’s greatest work, Mathias Sandorf. Verne’s original story became one of the most popular of his 65 novels in France in the 19th century and has been translated into 30 languages since then. Mr. Rios recently received honorable mention for his book from the International Latino Book Awards 2011 in the category of Best Young Adult Fiction-English. He also received honorable mention for the book at the New York Book Festival under science fiction.

Verne dedicated this novel to his mentor, Alexander Dumas, Sr., author of The Count of Monte Cristo published in 1844. Verne declared Mathias Sandorf as his greatest in his dedication in the book, stating his intention to make it his “Monte Cristo” of extraordinary travel adventures.

Verne’s 1885 novel was a considerably shorter take on Dumas’ classic plot of betrayal, imprisonment, escape, and revenge. It is worth noting that Dumas felt his own massive classic was a take on a prior 1838 publication by Jacque Penchet, A Diamond and a Vengeance. Dumas explained this in 1846, two years after publishing The Count of Monte Cristo. Verne strategically modified his own work to 552 pages, inclusive of 111 illustrations, and made his character an Austrian patriot seeking liberation from Prussia, taking his readers on a marvelous action-packed tour of the Mediterranean.                                                                               

In turn, 166 years later, Mr. Rios presents the first take by an American author on the classic plot by inverting it.  Dr. Mathias Sandorf is the leader of the Austrian revolution, but is betrayed and imprisoned. After his incarceration, he makes a daring escape from Pisino prison and spends 20 years on an uncharted island in the Atlantic Ocean, then returns to Austria to learn that the revolution he headed was successful.  However, Dr. Sandorf’s old enemies, intent on German subjugation of Austria, devise several plots to assassinate him.  As these plots fail, Dr. Sandorf is drawn once again into the role of a patriot and defender of a free Austria.

Mr. Rios also treats us to another creative twist from Verne’s repertoire by presenting Nicholas of Cape Matapan, surnamed Pesca (the fish). In Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Verne describes him as “a bold diver, where water is his element, and he lives more in it than on land.” Interestingly, the 1954 Disney film of the same name ignored the character as well as Verne’s  prediction that man would eventually communicate with sea creatures.  Mr. Rios cleverly handles these omissions by introducing a Shaolin Chinese community, also marooned on the island, whose members are able to communicate with fish.  Far fetched?  Not so!  The United States used dolphins to clear mine fields from the port of Unn Qasr in southern Iraq in 2003.

Scholars agree that Verne was transformed when he saw Dumas’ theatrical play, The Three Musketeers in Paris.  And in Mr. Rios’ adaptation, one finds a similar Austrian trio of patriots: Pierre, Pescade, and Matifou, assigned to uncover the identity of the chief villain, known only as Regent. They call themselves the three phantom musketeers of Austria.

While experts continue to disagree on Verne ‘s actual inspiration for the character Mathias Sandorf, Mr.  Rios’ absorbing and well-researched preface points to Archduke Louis Salvatore de Toscane, who Verne met and befriended in 1884 as he toured the Mediterranean researching his new book.

Mr. Rios also notes in his preface that two scholarly English translations of Verne’s masterpiece already exist. The first was done in England in 1886 by George Hanna, and the second in 2005 by Edward Brugnach.

Mr. Rios’ novel is well worth reading because it provides us with a fascinating action packed adventure as well as insights into a brilliant mind at work over a century ago.

Mr. Rios’ Biography

A New York City native, George J. Rios served as Commissioner for eight years in Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s administration, and served as New York City’s Chief Archivist, Records Officer and Municipal Librarian, heading the Department of Records and Information Services.  
Additionally, the Mayor nominated Mr. Rios to serve for six years, and the New York State Senate ratified his appointment, as a Trustee of The City University of New York on July 1, 1996. Mr. Rios converted DORIS into a “profit reduction in force of any city agency. He has distinguished himself in the senior ranks of federal, state, city, county government, the private sector, and civic volunteerism.

Other public service appointments for Mr. Rios include being the first Puerto Rican to accept three White House Appointments spanning five Presidential Administrations (Nixon, Ford, both Reagan terms, and Bush, Sr.). These positions included Selective Service Board of Appeals  (1972),  Senior Executive Service as Deputy  Director of The Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs (1982), and Regional Representative of The Secretary of Education (1992), Region II. 

Mr. Rios served three Secretaries of Education: Terrence Bell, William Bennett, and Lamar Alexander. He also served under Mayor Abraham Beame as the first “Civilian” and first Hispanic of the Civilian Complaint Review Board of The New York City Police Department from 1974 to 1975.
Mr. Rios was the first Hispanic Assistant to a Westchester County Executive for seven years. Here, he guided hundreds of businesses with their transition into that county, and directed the Jobs Training Center in Employment and Training.

Mr. Rios served on numerous civic boards such as United Way, the Westchester Mental Health Association, the Hudson Valley Blood Program, the Westchester Community Opportunity Program, and the Advisory Committee for Westchester Community College. He is also credited with being a Founding Board Member of The Westchester Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, The National Puerto Rican Coalition, and the National Hispanic Republican Assembly.

In the private sector, Mr. Rios was the first Hispanic Officer at The Equitable and progressed through three sensitive positions of distinction during a seven year period: Affirmative Action Director, Deputy Director,  Corporate Social Responsibility, and Deputy-Issues Management. He also wrote their strategy proposal, “Reach Out To Hispanic America.” .
After his honorable discharge from the United States Army in 1964, Mr. Rios worked as a Counselor for Aspira, and was the Director of East Harlem Redevelopment’s 800 unit housing complex “Taino Towers,” as well as the Public Affairs Representative for Con Edison.   
A Vietnam Era veteran, Mr. Rios utilized the G.I. Bill for ten years, graduating Hunter College with a Bachelor of Arts, and from John Jay College with a Masters in Public Administration. Both Universities have inducted him into their Hall of  Fame as Alumnus of the Year.  Mercy College also conferred a Doctorate of Humane Letters.

Mr. Rios has also established himself as a prominent professional vocalist, singing in five languages and playing piano. He has performed in the  world  premiere  of  the opera  “Cofresi,” by renowned composer Rafael Hernandez. 
Mr. Rios resides in Yonkers with his wife, Nydia Negron.
We spoke to Mr. Rios from his office in New York.

iStudioi: What was it that brought you into the world of Jules Verne?

George Rios: As a youngster, I was fascinated with literature, music, and languages. I studied Latin, French, Spanish, and English in high school and college while my strong inclination
toward classical music required language skill development. Thus, when I served in the United States Army in Chinon, France, for three years, I immersed myself in French literature, and rediscovered the greatest science fiction author of all time, Jules Verne--this time in original texts.

iStudioi: Why did you pick Mathias Sandorf I and II as the Verne work to be translated?

George Rios: In 1884, Verne drew the character Mathias Sandorf from real life--an Austrian patriot who he met and befriended until Verne’s passing in 1905. These two fought a common enemy, since Prussia waged war on both Austria and France. Also, very little is known of Verne the soldier, and this intrigued me because I was a soldier in France 80 years later.
As was Verne’s fashion, the epic plot revealed much about Verne himself. This story took place in Europe and preceded World War I while the United States was embroiled in its Civil War and Reconstruction. Likewise, as I read the story, I immediately felt that a translation and adaptation of the work would be well-received in the United States, where no English language version had been published.

iStudioi: Does the story of Mathias Sandorf have significance to our world today?

George Rios: Absolutely, the fight for freedom, and patriotism, the theme of Verne’s work, continues every day worldwide.  Moreover, Verne’s prediction in 1870 of  communication with sea creatures is amplified in my adaptation.  Recently, the United States utilized dolphins to clear mines designed to hamper the invasion from the waters of the port of Umm Qasr in southern Iraq.

iStudioi: Do you regard Jules Verne as a visionary?

George Rios: Jules Verne earned the title of  the father of modern science fiction because of the numerous predictions which became reality in the 20th and 21st centuries. The key to appreciating Verne lies in understanding his ability to see future science and wrap it in interesting characters and events of his time. However, not a year goes by that we see Verne’s predictions unfold as reality. Yesterday’s Vernian science fiction quickly becomes today’s truth.

The book cover of Masters of the Sea: The Adventures of Jules Verne’s Mathias Sandorf depicts Verne’s resting place in Amiens, France. His epitaph reads “Toward immortality and eternal youth.”

Former Presidents Regean, Nixon, Bush, and Ford acknowledge Mr. Rios, who received three White House Presidential appointments and served under all four presidents.

George Rios (center) with former Westchester County Executive Andrew P. O’Rourke (left) and former New York City mayor and presidential candidate Rudy Guiliani.

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