Elegant, overworldly (in that relentless manner a certain strain of Latin American who, me, provincial? writing has: ""Not Kazan or Kanpur or Aleppo. Not in lacustrine Venice or chimerical Istanbul, not on the Ile-de-France or in Tours or Stratford-on-Avon or Weimar or Yasnaia Poliana or in the baths of Algiers""), and hyperliterary (one section begins with quotations in Italian, French, and Spanish, including one from a poem by the author himself), Colombian writer Mutis's three novellas here have as their main character a shadowy adventurer alternately called Maqroll or ""the Gaviero"" (the Lookout). An authorial alter-ego, Maqroll is imagination personified as he recalls quixotic jungle journeys, or finds himself in various stages of picturesque entrepreneurship (such as running a brothel in Panama City with the piquant twist of specializing in young women who all pass themselves off as stewardesses), or is nearly executed after being mistaken for a guerrilla leader. Mutis (superbly translated into elegant English by the redoubtable Edith Grossman) is, on the strength of this introductory book, an acquired taste. Except for the bookishness and erotic connoisseurship that the Gaviero effortlessly gives off, the storytelling is stagy and close to precious, quite taken with its own jeweled surfaces and sheens. Intriguing, then, though the drumming artifice keeps you distant.