cover image The Old Man Who Read Love Stories

The Old Man Who Read Love Stories

Luis Sepulveda. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P, $14.95 (131pp) ISBN 978-0-15-168550-9

Gold prospectors, gringo intruders and seedy adventurers murder indigenous peoples, slaughter endangered species and turn Ecuador's lush jungle into a wasteland in this short, poignant novel with a resounding environmental message. Living in a hut in the jungle for over 40 years, Antonio Jose Bolivar Proano, now an old man, reads romantic novels to fill the void left by the death of his wife from malaria years ago. From the Shuar Indians, Antonio has learned to live in harmony with nature; he participates in their secret rites and drinks hallucinogenic potions with them. Then an unscrupulous mayor forces the reluctant Antonio to take part in the hunt for an ocelot whose cubs were killed by a gringo, turning her into a predator that stalks and kills men. The ensuing horrific confrontation between man and cat reveals the extent to which human depredations have tortured wildlife and disrupted ecosystems. Chilean writer Sepulveda, a political exile living in Germany since 1980, worked in the Amazon jungle for UNESCO, and his intimate familiarity with the land and all its creatures illuminates a taut, moving parable. (Mar.)