Antonio José BolÍvar Proaño knew he could return to his village in the mountains. The poor forgive everything but failure.
He had no choice but to remain with only his memories for company. He wanted to take revenge on that accursed region, that green hell that had snatched away his beloved and his dreams. He pictured a huge blaze that would turn the entire Amazon into a raging fire.
Yet in his helplessness he discovered he didn't know the jungle well enough to hate it.
He learned the language of the Shuar by joining their hunting expeditions. They hunted tapirs, pacas, capybaras, peccaries, small, very tasty wild boar, monkeys, birds, and reptiles. He learned to make good use of the blow pipe, which was so silent and effective in hunting, and of spears to catch the swift-moving fish.
In their company, he abandoned his Catholic peasant prudishness. He went half-naked and avoided contact with the new settlers, who considered him a madman.
Antonio José Bolívar Proaño, who never thought about the word "freedom" in the jungle, enjoyed limitless freedom. However much he tried to revive his old feeling of hatred, he couldn't help loving that world, and then the hatred faded as he was seduced by those vast expanses without frontier or owner.
The Old Man Who Read Love Stories is a short and beautiful little book. I think of it as an Ecuadorean The Old Man and the Sea. It is the story of a white man who for a time lives among the natives but can, in the end, not be one of them. He nonetheless carries their wisdom with him as he returns to the white settlements and never truly fits in among his own people. At the same time, his understanding of the jungle is respected. The villagers seek him out when their encounters with the wilderness become dangerous. The old man has errors to atone for, and is it in his encounters with the dangerous natural world that he seeks his redemption. Based on this novel, I would definitely be interested in reading more of Luis Sepúlveda’s work.