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Sangama: A Story of the Amazon Jungle
Raymond Enstam, translator
Early in the twentiety century the Amazon jungle was as it had been for millennia—wild and lush, beautiful, rich, and full of danger at every turn. In his first novel, Sangama, Peruvian author Arturo D. Hernández takes us deep into the Amazonian jungle during the time when the modern quest for riches first began to invade this primeval, unspoiled world. Abel Barcas, a young man who hopes to make his fortune in the rubber industry, meets the wise man, Sangama, a direct descendant of the Incan rulers. Traveling with his daughter, Chuya, Sangama, also, is on a quest: he goes in search of the lost treasure of his people and with it to change the course of history. One man’s journey ends in bitter disappointment, while the other finds himself facing a future he could not have foreseen. \tDrawn from Hernández’ personal knowledge of the Amazonian jungle and his own experiences there, Sangama was first published in Spanish in 1942. The novel was translated into French and German during the 1950s and became a best seller in Europe. Today considered a classic pf Peruvian literature and still widely read in Peru, Sangama is now available in English for the first time. “…an elegant, poetic translation, with Hernández’s passionate prose painting a vivid picture of the jungle’s untamed beauty and danger, giving readers a rare glimpse into a world that, at the time, was still mostly unspoiled by modern man.”---Kirkus Reviews
Enstam’s translation of Hernández’s best-known novel, a curricular staple for Peruvian schoolchildren, is as vibrant and wild as the jungle it eulogizes. The novel relates the tale of Abel Barcas, a young man seeking work in the booming rubber industry of turn-of-the-century Santa Inés, a village on a tributary of the Amazon River called the Ucayali. Latex-rich shiringa trees have made the jungle a gold mine for some, such as the corrupt governor Portunduaga, and a snake pit for others, including local populations ruined by the slave trade and forced labor. Initially, Barcas gets entangled in a series of slapstick misadventures, several undertaken with the book’s titular jungle savant, creating an episodic feel until a mission to recover a missing villager galvanizes the action. A love story between Barcas and Sangama’s daughter, Chuya, adds intrigue to what is otherwise an extended ode to an ecosystem that’s been vanishing since the book’s first printing in 1942. Readers hoping for subtle dialogue and character depth will be disappointed; melodrama seems to be the order of the day, but the author’s familiarity with the region establishes the Amazon’s “green prison”—teeming with alligator-swallowing anacondas, malevolent strangler figs, and man-eating ants—as one of the book’s most compelling characters, second only to the “capricious monster” of the Ucalayi itself. (BookLife)