A wonderful book that has been compared with the works of W.H. Hudson and Thoreau. -- Paul Theroux, The Independent
An intensely moving but humorous book. -- Traveller
This book challenges facile assumptions across the political spectrum in the best possible way: by quietly telling the truth. -- Anthony Daniels, The Weekend Telegraph
Thomsens style is simple but eloquent, intensely moving, but humorous too. -- New York Times Book Review
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The limits of curiosity in some cases didnt go very deep. Most of the housewives in the village were fanatically interested mainly in the number of clothes I sent each week to the senoras to be washed, and they were scandalized by the number of cigarettes I smoked, but this was just the usual small-town stuff. It was slightly flattering to be so closely observed and to be the object of such intense interest until I realized that I was set apart, separated from the true life of the town. I had come to show them my best side, and this was what they wanted to show me, too. About the time the bad side started showing through - the hatred between particular families, the jealousies between disenchanted friends, my awareness of the town alcoholics - my own bad side was also coming to the front. And when the kids started pounding on my door at five in the morning bumming paint for their tops, it was impossible not to use my wonderful new word and yell "Groseros!" at them!
through the still-locked door.
At the same time there would always exist a separation. After forty-five years Mister Swanson was still a gringo. Everyone knew how many beers he drank each day, how he made love, what he said the last time his son came to see him. You were separated by the colour of your skin, that sickly paleness that in this country was so ugly as to be embarrassing. You were separated by your lousy Spanish, by the typewriter that sat on your table or the camera you sometimes packed around; you were separated from many by the simple fact that on the day you arrived you had the carpenter make you a bed - sleeping on a bed of wooden slats somehow indicated refinement, real sensibility. Even the fact that you didnt eat those horrible baked or boiled platanos with every meal set you apart and made a sort of freak of you.
When Alexandros wife introduced me to her mother, she said, "This is Don Martin; he wont eat platano or yuca; he drinks two cups of coffee with every meal and smokes innumerable cigarettes." And the older woman, too amazed even to acknowledge the introduction, simply sat there slack-jawed trying to visualize a man who wouldnt eat platano. It was just too unbelievable. All through the meal she squatted in one dark corner of the room watching me drink two cups of coffee, muttering to herself.
Occasionally, more often that it would seem possible, someone - a friend - would begin to appear out of the crowds of people with whom I lived and worked. There came a time when I realized that someone regarded me as just another human being rather than as an exotic curiosity. It was always miraculous when it happened. It was a break-through, a transcending of all the things that made us look at each other strangely or suspiciously.