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Once again Ghose (The Incredible Brazilian, etc.) combines rich scenic detail with dark fairy-tale plotting to make something grimly dream-like out of Latin American history/geography--and the result here is at first dazzling, later somewhat belabored, but always intriguing in its sly manipulation of plots and themes. Equatorial landowner Jorge Rojas Jiminez is about to dump his wife and install his mistress on his great estate. . . when middle-aged Mark Kessel, a dilettante rebel and anthropologist, drives by in his golden Lincoln Continental and is joined (as a lark) by Rojas' two grown children--who go their separate Dickensian ways once Kessel gets lost while driving in the woods. Rojas' son Rafael wanders about, utterly lost, till he's taken in by one of South America's richest men, Oyarzun, master of a fortress-estate; and the boy will fall for Oyarzun's daughter--the bitterly disillusioned ex-mistress of a Cuban agent. Meanwhile, Rafael's sister Violeta barely escapes rape and is also taken in--by a family that just happens to be on the Oyarzun guest list. The brother and sister (both of whom, à la fairy-tale, are given new, confusing names) never quite meet, however--not until a wild plot convolution brings them together in an incestuous embrace that drives Violeta to suicide. And, also meanwhile, Kessel takes over his tycoon brother-in-law's empire and sends his nephew Jason off to search for an El Dorado-like jungle paradise on the Amazon--but what Jason finds (before coincidentally linking up with Violeta) is a nightmare-world of savagery, men-as-conjugal-slaves, and enough rage to make him a rapist/murderer. Disillusionment, then, is the organizing principle of this often-wayward narrative: all the infatuations here turn out badly, ""paradise is not necessarily a desirable habitat."" And, throughout, the geography--the love of land, the search for El Dorado, the nature of lost-ness--gives Ghose's shadowy whimsicalities some much-needed grounding. Still, while the novel's first half delights in its unpredictability, the second becomes too heavy-footed to achieve fable-like lightness--and readers will have to weather some excesses and longueurs while enjoying Ghose's rich prose, imaginative scene-making, and dark ironies.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston