Monday, August 29, 2011

The Bridge in the Jungle

I liked it.

Written by the mysterious B. Traven as a short story and serialized in 1927, subsequently published in a longer book form in 1929.

I had been trolling the used book stores looking for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1927) also by Traven and came upon this for $2. I took a chance.

It is indeed a short story - about the death and burial of a little Indian boy in the jungles of Mexico, 176 pages of small print, perhaps 45,000 words. I had to put it down over the course of several days to do those things we all must to keep body and soul concomitant, but I kept picking it back up, kept on reading. It is a tribute to Traven's ability as a writer.

It is clear that Traven had that love and respect for indigenous peoples that afflicts the idealist, but in his case is tempered by a realistic appreciation of ignorance and poverty. Most writers of indigenous peoples fall into two camps: the noble savage or the carefree children. The noble savage is proud, lives at one with the land and has a mystical communion with the universe. The carefree children are good-hearted, irresponsible, comic emulators of European sophistication. Traven travels a more realistic middle ground.

I could not but help seeing in The Bridge in the Jungle the seeds of a magical realism, subtle and restrained - not the careless mixture of fantasy and reality encountered so often and so much later. And this in 1927, well before Borges' Ficciones in 1944.

Traven was revered in Mexico, at one point his literary representative was Esperanza Lopez Mateos, sister of a future President of Mexico, until her suicide in 1951, the same Year Traven was granted Mexican Citizenship.

I'm going to keep my eye out for more Traven. If you ignore the anti-capitalist rants (actually, I found them to be lots of fun), Traven writes with a certain degree of subtlety. And how can a story so simple be stretched to 45,000 words and still keep the reader interested all the way to the end? He did it pretty well.

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