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An old man in the Amazon jungle escapes by reading love stories: a call to ecological action

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A Little Fable That's Much More Than That about the Amazon

  • Dec 10, 2013
Rating:
+4

This was taken in Puerto Maldonado, on the Rio Madre de Deus in the Amazon basin.  The  bustling little city (population about 140,000) is where you used to have to take a ferry across the river to continue west into the Amazon.

 

But now a new bridge links the two sides, making it possible to go ride on reasonably good road from the Pacific coast of Peru, across Brazil and on to the Atlantic.

 

Travelling the highway was one of the reasons I went to South America a few weeks ago.  A trip like that makes you think about many things, including  new understanding of books you read a long time ago. 

 

One of these is Luis Supelveda's delightful The Old Man Who Read Love Stories.  The thumbnail plot outline is: "In a remote river town deep in the Ecuadoran jungle, Antonio Jos Bolvar seeks refuge in amorous novels. But tourists and opportunists are making inroads into the area, and the balance of nature is making a dangerous shift."

 

Well, yes, that's what I remember.  But there's much more to it, including a character who is a teeth-pullling dentist and who removes all the teeth of a gold-hunter on a bet.  The description is chillingly funny, but it turns out that there's an allegorical twist, since the Brazilian national hero who pioneered settlement of the hinterland is called Tiradentes, the tooth-puller. 

 

Sepulveda is a Chilean left wing activist in addition to being a playwright and novelist, and was a good friend of Chico Mendes, a Brazilian from a few miles east of Puerto Maldonado.  Mendes was assasinated 25 years ago for leading a revolt of rubber tappers and protesting the rape of the Amazon.  When you realize that, this charming little story--which can be read as tribute to the power of fiction to transport--becomes much more serious.  It even can be read as the reverse of what it appears on the surface--that is, as a call to action, instead of an elegy for escape.

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December 12, 2013
Interesting story!
 
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About the reviewer

Ranked #92
Mary Soderstrom is a Montreal-based writer of fiction and non-fiction. Her new collection of short stories, Desire Lines: Stories of Love and Geography, will be published by Oberon Press in November, … more
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