Hernandez (Sangama, 2014) tells the story of an uncontacted Amazonian tribe taking a white woman captive.
In this new translation, Enstam brings the late Peruvian author, known for his writing about the Amazon basin, to English-language readers. This book, first published in Spanish in 1954, is a version of an allegedly true story of the late 1920s. Mariana, the young wife of hunter Alfredo, accompanies him into the jungle in search of game. A band of warriors from a native tribe approach them and appear friendly at first—but then, when Alfredo’s guard is down, they use his shotgun to murder him and kidnap Mariana. If this attack seems treacherous to readers, the author explains that it’s simply the way of the jungle: “The mind of the savages does not conceive the attack from the front, above all in their wars. They mock the white man who marches through the jungle, announcing his presence to the four winds.” They carry Mariana away and make her the wife of one of the warriors; as a result, she’s treated to a crash sociology course in the ways of the Amazon. Even as she becomes immersed in her captors’ culture, though, the words of the dying Alfredo are never far from her mind: “Don’t be afraid; someday you will be able to escape.” The novel’s premise may be problematic to those with modern post-colonial sensibilities. The language is certainly marked by the common worldview of the time of its original composition; it consistently refers to the Amazonian tribesman as savages, for example. That said, if readers can get beyond the author’s Western bias, there’s much to enjoy in this tale. Hernandez is a wonderful, hypnotic writer of action and fear, and his rendering of the jungle, which pulses with life at every level, is a treat to inhabit. Enstam’s translation is also wonderfully readable; indeed, this is a book to get lost in.
A gripping South American adventure set in a bygone time and place.