Fordlandia

Eduardo Sguiglia, Author, Patricia J. Duncan, Translator
Eduardo Sguiglia, Author, Patricia J. Duncan, Translator Thomas Dunne Books $22.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-312-26592-2
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-312-28399-5
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Horacio is one man among many who comes to Fordlandia, the Brazilian rubber plantation that Henry Ford established in 1929, in order to be rid of past mistakes in this brooding, imaginative first novel by Argentinian writer Sguiglia. In the immutable Amazon, where Horacio is employed as the chief of personnel, the protagonist's destiny begins to take shape as he and his fellow administrators battle vainly with the Brazilian jungle to establish civilization and capitalism. Horacio is an opportunist with morals, a solitary adventurer and traveler at heart who needs others in order to advance; he is above all a man on a quest for his destiny and identity. His misadventures and Sguiglia's ardent storytelling recall the works of Joseph Conrad, Alejo Carpentier and Alvaro Mutis. Challenging notions of civilization, most notably the intrusive and arrogant operations of capitalism against nature, the novel explores Fordlandia's effects on individual freedom and conformity as Horacio journeys into the jungle to recruit native workers, clashes with his misfit colleagues, battles a fungus that threatens the rubber trees and courts Caroline, the plantation's resident sociologist. In a momentous episode, Horacio suffers a near-death experience and is reborn a hero. Cleverly, Sguiglia has kept Horacio's name from the reader up until this point. As his identity is formed, his name is finally uttered by none other than Henry Ford himself. Horacio withholds vital information from the reader as easily as he withholds and manipulates information from Ford executives and jungle natives in order to serve his needs. His silences suit the narrative mood, but the mysteries of his character are so well guarded that the novel ends in deliberate opacity. Nevertheless, this is a darkly satisfying work, well served by Duncan's translation, that seamlessly mixes history with fiction. (Sept.)
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