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Alejo Carpentier: Los pasos perdidos (The Lost Steps)

This novel is partially based on Carpentier’s stay in Venezuela. An anonymous composer lives in New York, following a humdrum routine and living in a meaningless marriage. His solution is to take his lover on a trip up the upper reaches of the Orinoco in Venezuela, ostensibly to research into the music of the peoples of the area. Of course, what he is doing is trying to find that something that makes life special and, by implication, he is looking for that probably non-existent magical period when the modern world did not exist and man was fully in tune with his environment. He even finds a native woman who replaces his lover. The novel becomes a mythical quest for the ideal, the Holy Grail, with the unspoiled upper Orinoco as the backdrop of his quest. He finds his Eden in a primitive tribe, where he how fully realizes that the intellect of modern society is in no way superior to what these people have. Of course, as in James Hilton’s Lost Horizon (best known in the film version), he loses his Shangri-La and cannot find it again. But he will always remember it.

Publishing history

First published in 1953 by Edición y Distribución Ibero Americana de Publicaciones, Mexico
First English translation 1956 by Knopf
Translated by Harriet de Onís