A debut novel tells the story of an indigenous man seeking his Spanish father in 17th-century South America.
Jabuti is a young, single man of the Piaroa, living in a village near the Orinoco River in Venezuela in 1697. Despite a reasonably good life, Jabuti can’t help but feel unsatisfied: “He had good friends, a peaceful village to live in and food in his belly, but he could not shake off the gnawing feeling of loneliness and despair, which haunted his every waking moment....But why can’t I break the spell?” He decides to consult the village shaman, who reveals to the man the secret of his origins: Jabuti is not an orphan, as he has grown up believing. Instead, his father is still alive. What’s more, he is one of the feared white men from across the sea who established a settlement in the lands of the Piaroa. With his best friends, Wanadi and Mapi, Jabuti sets out to find his father, even though it means leaving the safety of his village and journeying through a jungle full of dangers. The three quickly locate white men, but they prove to be trickier than any of them could have guessed. In his quest to discover his father—and himself—Jabuti’s trek through the jungle turns out to be just the beginning of a much longer odyssey. Shedlake (A Courageous Heart, 2017, etc.) writes in an expressive prose that keeps the tension high. The book is full of the sort of first contact moments that readers expect from a novel set in this New World milieu: “He had a dirty and straggly beard, interrupted by an angry looking scar….He held what looked like a weapon to Jabuti with a wooden grip and a fanciful long snout attached to it. Jabuti couldn’t take his eyes off the beautifully sculpted object as it glistened in the sun’s rays.” The slim work is only the first episode in a longer series (two more installments have since been published). As such, it doesn’t really stand on its own. But for those interested in the early colonial period in South America, this straightforward historical escapade provides all the requisite drama.
A pulpy adventure story set in colonial Venezuela.