The boundaries between jungle and civilization, river and land, natives and interlopers are explored, broken, and re-established in Arana’s breathtaking fiction debut. Set on the Amazon river in the early to mid-20th century, the narrative sets out the life of Don Victor Sobrevilla Paniagua: his early years in Lima, his growing skills as an engineer, and his passion to go beyond what tradition, and the laws of nature, deem possible by building a paper factory in the jungle. He takes his young family up the Amazon River, massive paper-factory machinery in tow, and against all odds, succeeds.

Twenty years of supplying paper up and down the river have made him rich both in financial terms and in family, as another generation of Sobrevillas grows up in his luxurious hacienda in the jungle. Trouble is brewing, however, that neither organized religion nor the native shamans can avert. Just as Don Victor works out the finishing touches on producing his crowning glory – cellophane – the hacienda, and the surrounding area inhabited by his factory workers, are struck by a “plague of tongues,” in which everyone is compelled to tell the truth, withholding no secrets whatsoever. Then their inner motives become transparent as well, as the “plague of hearts” takes hold. Lust and infidelity are everywhere, breaking the bonds of decades and forging new ones. Finally, the “plague of revolution” pits everyone, native and white, against not only each other but against him or herself, as well. Out of destruction comes insight and new life, and the balance of nature is regained.

Arana provides humorous moments, evocative descriptions, and thoughtful resolution, creating a wonderful page-turning tale.


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