Shades Of Words


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Book Review : Santiago and the drinking party

This is an odd little book. It doesn’t have a plot, or a theme. Stuff happens. Why or to what end doesn’t seem to matter.

The story starts at an unusual place, deep in the Amazon, where Daniel, our narrator, is backpacking as a student. During a dangerous, almost fatal river crossing he meets Santiago. Santiago is the resident philosopher –who earns his living feeding off the superstition of the tribes. His daughter, Angelina makes quite an impression of Daniel. Then they have sex. And then Daniel runs for it. Well we don’t know why exactly, but Daniel decides that he has had enough of the Amazonian exoticness and must head back to US of A.

Years pass, presumably. We don’t know for sure. Daniel is back in the Amazon, riding a bus back into its depths, reaching the little town which he visited many years ago. Why is he going back? What is he looking for? What is he running away from? Again, we don’t know.

The story or whatever this is really starts from there. Daniel is welcomed into the dysfunctional social circle of Santiago’s thinking and drinking club. It is exactly what it sounds – Santiago and few men get together in the Cantina, drink beer and have existential discussions. Once in a while they make you think, but mostly they are just the ramblings of drunken men.

Angelina has now become the bonafide village hottie – who freelances as an actress, guide, scientist – anything that will get her out of this little shit -hole. She is of course desired by many men and is often the cause of petty fights.

Several characters are introduced but none are really etched out. Who are these people? What do they do all day? What do they live on? How do they earn their wages? We don’t know. References are made to tourist groups and expeditions but how central are they to the economy to the village is again not clear.

There is something almost mythical about the world that Clay Morgan creates. There are pink dolphins, blue butterflies, green dense undergrowth, clear waterfalls and naked dancing tourists. There is a man that appears in the middle of the river island, a flood that brings an epidemic of toads, a brain fever that makes people dizzy with happiness. And the endless disappearing of people.

The most macabre of all is the endless disappearing of people. Hector, the village con artist and sociopath keeps disappearing into the forest with tourists and no one knows what ever becomes of them

So should you read this book? Oh, I don’t know – it’s quirky, fun and interesting. The language is beautiful. Towards the end it’s just bizarre. Morgan tries to fill the last 100 pages with as much weirdness as possible. What is an already an aimless tale becomes even more derailed. At the end you are left with a sense of wasted time.