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Amirbar by Alvaro Mutis
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I was very excited to stumble upon a new (to me) and relatively contemporary author with an impressive pedigree (Premio Cervantes, works translated by Edith Grossman, "One of the greatest writers of our time," according to Gabriel García Márquez), whose works were available at an extremely accessible price online. For a total of about ten bucks I was able to procure an Alfaguara anthology of his seven novellas about Maqroll el Gaviero, a wandering seaman who has traveled the world and had a great deal of adventures; as well as a first edition of this book, Amirbar, which is included in the Alfaguara anthology but is a bit of an anomaly, as it concerns the time that Maqroll left the open seas to try his hand at gold mining in the foothills of the Andes. Colombia is a country whose literature I'm not particularly familiar with, and it was exciting to have a new author with a plethora of works to choose from. I was hoping that this first book would open the door to a new author that I could enjoy in the future, and while I am not willing to discard the author based solely on this initial reading, my enthusiasm was a bit tempered by Amirbar. I think that Álvaro Mutis is without a doubt an exceptional writer, but his subject matter may not be my cup of tea.

In this book Maqroll tells his mining story to his chronicler in California as he recovers from a bout of malaria that has to taken him out of seafaring action. He arrives in South America seeking to mine some gold and meets a variety of interesting people along the way. He stays in an inland town for a while as he gets the lay of the land, and befriends one of the workers at the cafe named Dora Estela. She introduces him to her brother, who becomes his mining partner and helps him explore two mines, the second of which proves fruitful; unfortunately, he is then abducted by military patrollers concerned about guerilla activity in the region. Since Maqroll needs someone else to help him work the mine, Dora Estela sends him a woman who is mysterious and has a special method of contraception that prevents her from having children, which is one of her greatest fears in life. The mining story ends with Maqroll feeling older and wearier than when it began. There is an epilogue in which the chronicler recounts a later correspondence with Maqroll in which he explains how he found some information relatable to his experience in the mines in an old Mallorcan book that he read. I enjoyed the way that the initial and final sections of the book contrasted with the body of Maqroll´s tale, with ostensibly modern-day California and Europe helping situate his story, which in some ways could have just as easily happened a century ago as today, in our own times.

I would call this book well-written, but I certainly did not find it inspiring. Perhaps it was not the best introduction to the author: it appears to be an addendum of sorts to the life story of Maqroll, and it also wanders from the nautical nature of his other adventures. I didn´t find myself extremely attracted to the premise of an incessant and sage wanderer who has been everywhere in the world and has boatloads of experience with the various men and women who inhabit this earth. In reading the limited biographical information on Álvaro Mutis available online, it appears that he too has done a fair amount of wandering, and it stands to reason that his Maqroll character is a combination of his own experiences in the world and his fantasies about what it would be like to travel the high seas seeking adventure, winning women and experiencing the various trials and tribulations of the rough life of an anchorless soul. I´m just not a big fan of adult adventure stories, although I understand that many people are. The scope of el Gaviero's travels and experiences gave the author an expansive palette of people, places and vocabulary from which to choose, and Mr. Mutis undoubtedly has incredible control over the Spanish language. I would definitely recommend this book to those who enjoy adventure stories starring grown-ups; I just don't particularly enjoy them myself. I am glad that this book got me thinking about mines and mining, because I remembered that I wanted to re-read the book Subterra, by Baldomero Lillo, which documents the hardships of Chilean miners in the early 20th century. I was thinking about it when I first read about the miners in Chile who have been stuck far underground for quite some time, and I'm planning to start reading it during my afternoon break. ( )
  msjohns615 | Oct 5, 2010 |
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