In Naples, Pulga would be a scugnizzo, a ""spinning top,"" and like the Tyler Whittle book of that title, this has the attraction of sympathetic involvement with one of the dispossessed finding a niche for himself. When Pulga has a chance to help Gilimon on his truck, he tells no one he's leaving Bogota -- who'd notice he was gone? As to where they're going, it's all new, even the name of neighboring Venezuela. With his bath in the waterfall at Mama Maruja's and her refusal to call him Pulga, ""the Flea,"" comes the first sense of himself as a person of worth, and the beginning of his revolt against fate. They will make a circuit of Colombia (mapped) before his first independent step, the rescue of lame brother Jose from the life both led, but the trip is all preparation. For the reader it is also a picaresque adventure involving smuggling and treachery and bad fortune foretold; a stolid boy taking rotten meat to his grandmother; an imposing wake and a perilous ride on the tailgate, cattle stamping below; and at the last the bandit Sombra Negre, whom Pulga spies kidnapping the very boy -- a very rich boy -- whose Mercedes Pulga had clung to at the outset. There is an element of the adventitious but it is not overdone: though Pulga is responsible for the boy's release there's no knowing if he'll ever get a reward; like much of the rest, the situation is played for irony, not for profit. Much baffles Pulga as it will the reader, and for both it's exposure to life's enigmas, localized but nonetheless universal. If occasionally the author obtrudes, calling attention to what was implicit, the realities of the road and the roadside are redemptive. Plus Pulga, losing his first pair of shoes but biting the hand that would take Gilimon's ruana. Kids will be with him all the way.