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Lost Steps [Paperback]

Alejo Carpentier
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

15 April 2001
A composer, fleeing an empty existence in New York, takes a journey with his mistress to the remote upper reaches of a South American river, imagining he is retracing the lost steps of mankind. The author - who was amongst the first to use "magic realism" - has also written "The Chase".
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Product details

  • Paperback: 278 pages
  • Publisher: University of Minnesota Press; Reprint Ed edition (15 April 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0816638071
  • ISBN-13: 978-0816638079
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 16.3 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 245,422 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lyrical prose and a musical theme 2 Dec 2006
Format:Paperback
Carpentier's `LS' is the story of an academic and composer who revives a long abandoned project to collect lost and forgotten musical instruments from remote corners of the world. Originally, he and his mistress, a wannabe bohemian trapped in her narrow western mindset, view the trip as little more than a jolly, and decide to fake the instruments rather than actually search for them. However, a revolution in the (unnamed) South American state they find themselves in forces them deeper into the jungle they had been trying to avoid. The composer's distance from the world he is used to awakens a dormant passion for life that forces him to decide between his old life and a new one in the jungle. `TLS' is a real `Heart of Darkness' book, except that civilisation is to be found in the jungle, and it is the cities being left behind where the savages live.

`TLS' is set apart from other similar books by the role played by music in the composer's reawakening. Music, and the composer's attitude to it, is a constant reference point and charts his development as a character. When he hears the refined classical music of Europe in conjunction with the ongoing holocaust, it causes him to doubt traditional definitions of civilisation and progress. The first victim of the coup in the South American town is European Choirmaster, who is shot while defiantly enjoying an almost colonial decadence in the midst of poverty. His shooting is an allegory for the death of the old music in the composer's mind. From then on, his music comes from more natural sources: the sounds of animals, of wind, of running water. Carpentier repeatedly describes the sounds of every new environment the composer encounters, not merely as sounds, but in terms of music.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Retracing the steps of humanity 27 July 2007
Format:Paperback
Unfulfilled by writing commissioned film scores and disillusioned by the pretence and vacuity of his life in New York, a composer takes up an offer to go to the Amazon jungle to look for the rudimentary musical instruments that would provide evidence of a theory about the origin of music that he had developed as a student. The original plan of taking the money and his lover and defrauding the university so that they could enjoy an extended holiday in South America goes badly wrong when they unexpectedly get caught up in a revolution there and are forced into the jungle. Travelling at first with his mistress from New York and then with a mestizzo lover taken up along the way, the book describes in wonderful Baroque prose the awesome scale and sense of time reversal that he experiences in his dark, dripping travels into a world of perpetual greenness. He senses that he is retracing the steps of humanity. Finally, deep in the jungle he is faced with having to make an almost mystical choice about his life and life work. The `simple' life is uncompromisingly portrayed in its pitiless and raw brutality and yet somehow the `noble savage' still retains the essence of humanity, a survivor in the natural world stripped of the worthless accoutrements and gadgets of modern life. This is at once adventure, allegory, love story, morality tale, and academic tract, but above all it is storytelling at its majestic best, a minor masterpiece of post-war literature.
Carpentier was the first writer to coin the phrase `magical realism' where myths, fables and religion are interwoven into narratives without faithful adherence to time or reality. The form is taken to its extreme in Garcia Marquez's Autumn of the Patriarch, and these two authors remain magical realism's most accomplished exponents. Although the style has influenced writers worldwide, for me it doesn't seem to work beyond Latin America.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An odyssey back to the origin 30 Oct 2005
Format:Hardcover
An anthropologist flees his vacuous lifestyle in New York and travels to South America. Venturing into the jungle, the unnamed protagonist immerses himself in another world and finds peace among the primal societies there.
If you like the Mexican feature film: "CABEZA DE VACA", then you'll love this novel, which is full of literary allusions.
The language is tediously over-elaborate at times.
However, this work has elements of Proust + Conrad's Heart of Darkness woven into an allegory which retraces a mystic history of Spain & la conquista back to the innocence of the pre-conquest.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Further endorsement 7 April 2008
By Sporus
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Not much to add to the two extant and excellent reviews here. This is a minor classic. The language is angular rather than baroque. Carpentier obviously foraged on architectural dictionaries. At times you think the book is about to stall, but the utterly admirable translation keeps winning through and on a re-read there are some magnificent passages here. There's not much irony to offset the slightly dated attitude towards women or the equally dated sense of the innate superiority of the intellectual. The 'revelations' about the origins of music and the didactic aesthetic pale in the light of - say - Mann's 'Dr Faustus' or Broch's 'Death of Virgil' (both of which have arthritic qualities, too). If you like your (capital 'L') literature 'over-easy' (Scott Fitzgerald, say, or Garcia Marquez) then you won't care much for TLS; Carpentier tries harder and it shows in both a good way and a bad way. But I shouldn't be carping like this: I should be fainting with damn praise...
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  20 reviews
34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Lost Steps Only Helps You Find Your Way 13 Mar 2002
By Max Goldstein - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The novel The Lost Steps by Alejo Carpentier is a beautifully told story of an anthropologist/composer who seeks to understand the often confusing world we live in. Fleeing an empty existence in New York City during the mid 1930's, Victor travels down to South America in search of primitive instruments and to discover their importance to the indigenous cultures he will encounter there. Venturing deeper and deeper into the jungle, Victor feels as though he is traveling farther and farther into history and farther away from his chaotic life of New York City. The simplistic and peaceful lives of the many tribes he finds deep in the jungle, and their beautiful musical instruments and primitive beats, cause for deep thought in Victor because of the almost overwhelming difference between the world he finds himself in and the world of the United States. This great contrast sets forth an amazing story both of adventure and deep intellectual thought of this time period.
The book will take one on a journey into the depths of the human mind, the streets of New York City, and into the dense South American jungle. Never boring, the book is a page turner and will entice each and everyone who reads the book to travel, think and understand what was going on in the United States during the 30's- both the good and the bad. The book also sets up great discussion between intellectuals who know and understand the study of primitive instruments. The book is beautifully written, beautifully told and is simply great. This is a must to read to let your mind go into the deep jungle and into the concrete streets.
26 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the most memorable novels I've ever read 1 Dec 2002
By Experienced seminar leader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I've read thousands of novels that I cannot remember clearly, and this is one that has stayed with me for more than 20 years. I have thought of it repeatedly the last few months while walking in the woods and observing how the trails change with the seasons (a crucial part of the plot) and thinking about what life would be like if we were cut off from civilization the way the main character in this book is. The theme of this book is as beautifully executed as a classic opera and is especially meaningful if you are a music lover. I'm delighted to know that the book is still in print so that I can easily reread it and give it as a gift to people important to me.
20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Latin American Classic 9 Jan 2003
By Gail Moore - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This great adventure novel was first published in 1953 and many of the scenes in this book seem prototypes for others I've come across in Latin American fiction. It is a story of a modern, educated, well traveled man, fleeing from the horrors of Europe leading up to WWII, to the Americas, who is then transposed into a world where the people still live in the stone age, a hidden city in the jungle and a bubble in time.
Our hero & narrator dreamed when young of becoming a great musician, but has long since sold himself out just for the sake of earning a living. He rarely sees his wife, an actress, because they both have busy schedules that seldom coincide. One day a fated encounter with a museum curator he knew in his youth leads him to a mission into the jungle to find and bring back the most primitive of musical instruments and to gain anthropological insights on the origins of music. The musician, who begins the trip with his mistress, ends up on his own cut off from civilization. In the jungle he at last able to find an inner peace and happiness, he finds a new woman, regains his health & vigor and at last is able to release the musical score he has always known was inside him. By the time his wife has a plane sent in as a publicity stunt to rescue him, he does not want to return.
This novel is deeply philosophical, in the end our musician can no longer find a place in either world, and the message is we can't go back, also theories about early humans which have been arrived at only by studying archaeological artifacts can only be flawed, to quote "New worlds had to be lived before they could be analyzed".
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars my favorite novel 21 Feb 2002
By listener - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Every once in a while I pick up The Lost Steps
and savour it again. Each paragraph is a magical adventure.
Reading The Lost Steps is like taking a mystical journey into the soul of Latin America. Harriet de Onis's translation
captures the magic.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Retracing the steps of humanity 11 Jan 2009
By Trevor Coote - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Unfulfilled by writing commissioned film scores and disillusioned by the pretence and vacuity of his life in New York, a composer takes up an offer to go to the Amazon jungle to look for the rudimentary musical instruments that would provide evidence of a theory about the origin of music that he had developed as a student. The original plan of taking the money and his lover and defrauding the university so that they could enjoy an extended holiday in South America goes badly wrong when they unexpectedly get caught up in a revolution there and are forced into the jungle. Travelling at first with his mistress from New York and then with a mestizzo lover taken up along the way, the book describes in wonderful Baroque prose the awesome scale and sense of time reversal that he experiences in his dark, dripping travels into a world of perpetual greenness. He senses that he is retracing the steps of humanity. Finally, deep in the jungle he is faced with having to make an almost mystical choice about his life and life work. The `simple' life is uncompromisingly portrayed in its pitiless and raw brutality and yet somehow the `noble savage' still retains the essence of humanity, a survivor in the natural world stripped of the worthless accoutrements and gadgets of modern life. This is at once adventure, allegory, love story, morality tale, and academic tract, but above all it is storytelling at its majestic best, a minor masterpiece of post-war literature.
Carpentier was the first writer to coin the phrase `magical realism' where myths, fables and religion are interwoven into narratives without faithful adherence to time or reality. The form is taken to its extreme in Garcia Marquez's Autumn of the Patriarch, and these two authors remain magical realism's most accomplished exponents. Although the style has influenced writers worldwide, for me it doesn't seem to work beyond Latin America.
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