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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
This review is from: The Lost Steps (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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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 13 Feb 2011 19:58:43 GMT
jelly 1960 says:
Great review! I've read and re-read this book many times. I was hoping to find it on Kindle - but sad to say, it's not there. There is a passage (at page 226 of my Penguin edition) that starts: On my return I found the city covered with ruins...
It carries on:
From these cement mazes emerged, exhausted, men and women who had sold another day of their time to the enterprises that fed them. They had lived another day without living, and would now restore their strength to live another day tomorrow which would not be lived either, unless they fled - as I used to do, at this same hour - to the din of the dance-hall or the benumbment of drink, only to find themselves the next sunrise more desolate, wearier, sadder than before.

What a great passage of writing! I often think of it when I'm commuting into the City. I look at my fellow commuters, and think: Carpentier was writing about us!

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Feb 2011 23:16:08 GMT
Trevor Coote says:
And that eerily prescient passage was written almost 60 years ago! This is one of the ten best works of fiction that I have read and one of the finest novels in world literature.
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