Reading the Canongate Myths, vol XIII

Orphans of Eldorado by Milton Hatoum

Translated by John Gledson

I’ve temporarily jumped to the current end of the Canongate Myths list (see my dedicated page for the series here) to read this short novel inspired by Amazonian fables of an enchanted city, and the search for Eldorado. The action centres around the Brazilian city of Manaus which, although situated way up the Amazon, is a major port.

Arminto Cordovil is in love from afar with Dinaura, an orphan from up the river under the care of the Carmelites. Florita, his family housekeeper tells him stories about the Indian girls, that they want to walk into the river to seek the enchanted city. Arminto gets permission to date Dinaura, but then his father dies making him an orphan too – his mother had died in childbirth. Arminto has to take charge of the family shipping empire and plantations further up the Amazon. When the freighter, The Eldorado, crashes, Arminto sees it as an omen, and combined with his obsession for Dinaura, things start to get out of control, especially when he discovers the truth about his father’s business.

Life up the Amazon at these faraway trading posts is vibrantly brought to life, for despite the remoteness, the river brings a diverse and rich mix of people to the steamy paradise. Arminto, having had a hard relationship with his lone parent, and ignoring advice from Florita and his father’s lawyer Estiliano, becomes obsessed with searching for his own private Eldorado. Although it was beautifully evocative of the region, and I felt at home with placing it timewise back around the 1930s, I didn’t feel as in touch with the myth of the enchanted city that inspired the story. I would have loved to hear more about the mysterious indigenous people and their legends, but Arminto was a rather unreliable narrator, smitten as he was. Fans of Love in the Time of Cholera by Marquez, will enjoy this little tale, and perhaps notice some parallels.

I particularly like the fact that the Myths series is worldwide in scope and I am looking forward to exploring further beyond the classics. It is a shame though, that having started off in hardback, new additions are now paperback only, (which is exasperating to collectors). Early editions tempted us with volumes from Donna Tartt, who seems to have disappeared from the list of authors to come listed in Orphans, but we are promised more myths from A S Byatt and Natsuo Kirino amongst others, plus those already published. The next will be the controversial The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman, published on April 1st! (7/10)

This post was republished into its original place in my blog’s timeline from my lost posts archive.

Source: Review copy

Milton Hatoum, Orphans of Eldorado (Canongate 2010) paperback, 176 pages.

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