Moritz Thomsen, a failed California hog-farmer and Peace Corps success, was going to turn 400 Ecuadorian acres into a model of agricultural development for the Esmeraldas region. With his young black partner Ramon, he would live in ""decent poverty"" and ""have human relationships with our workers and the poor farmers who lived up and down the river."" Three years and uncountable indignities, blasted dreams, and human horrors later, the farm is planted in bananas, the last desperate hope of all underdogs, Ramon's children are off to the city to be educated and improved, and Thomsen, nursing his hurts, casts a longing eye across the river little by little he will fell the trees, smooth the land, and, when he can, set up a phonograph and seek his revenge--blast Bach and Bartok and Stravinsky at the people ""who had given me a thousand sleepless nights with their country music."" (""If they complained, I would shatter their houses with Varese or Stockhausen."") This is no ordinary dropout or disillusioned do-gooder. Thomsen loves the land, and makes it his and ours, with the ardor of an E.B. White contemplating his saltwater farm. But most of his absorbing book is about the history of the Esmeraldas--imagined as a cachepot of civilization--and its people, the very ones whose excesses he decries. Ancient, filthy, cackling Dalmiro, kept alive by his insane dream of some day finding someone who would love him; the brothers Cortez, a natural commune, sundered by the arrival of a tiny, quiet girl, Segundo, who dares a car to hit him--and becomes the fifth and last accident victim in a week. A week that began with Ramon solicitously telling his friend' ""I'm sorry, Martin. Stravinsky's dead."" Too tragic for irony, too brutal for optimism, too alive to dismiss or forget.