Briefly: This compelling and efficient novella grabs readers and quickly embeds them within the life of an aging Ecuadoran whose first, and only love, has died after a brief and unproductive marriage, leaving the much younger Antonio José Bolívar Proaño procreatively unaccomplished, as well as, a failure as a settler in a new community. Unable to return to his previous village, “the poor forgive everything but failure,” Antonio settles in the village of El Idilio (the Idyll—get a sense of how this begins to work?) where his humble life includes joining the hunting expeditions of the Shuar, a people very in touch with the environment and tradition, but try as he does, he remains, ‘like them, but not one of them,’ as an inadvertent violation of tradition and friendship all too quickly reveals. Later in life, he is comforted by visits by a travelling dentist who brings novels—love stories—premised on the recommendations of the dentist’s favored prostitute. The idyllic life of Antonio is complicated by the constantly sweating village mayor (variously referred to as ‘the fat man’ or Slimey Toad) and an unforgiving ocelot. Honor, tradition, wisdom, all themes in a slight volume that readers will breeze through as danger mounts and admiration for the old man grows.
You can keep Hemingway’s old man, I’ll take Sepúlveda’s any day. 4-and-some-fraction stars, in this case rounded down, not because of a failure, rather because it could have been so, so much longer. Very nicely done.
Nearly forgot a quote:
even as he was now preparing to do with the books the dentist had brought him, books that lay beckoning to him from the high table, innocent of the chaotic vista of a past that Antonio José Bolívar preferred to forget, leaving open the wells of memory, to be filled with the delights and torments of loves that outlasted time.