The Literateur (1)

Ashes of the Amazon, review by Dan Eltringham – The Literateur, 23, December 2009

English, Press  

Set in Manaus, capital of Brazil’s Amazona region, Ashes of the Amazon evokes place and milieu far removed from the contextual touchstones of European literary fiction, while being at once predominantly concerned with one of the European novel’s great themes: the value of art, the worth of being an artist, and the thorny problem of whether an artistic life is one insulated from other kinds of social responsibility. The novel’s main strength is its very serious engagement with the relation of art to poverty, the myth of the impoverished artist and to commerce. This is familiar ground, but it is well covered, and although the novel as a piece of art will usually end up taking art’s side, here it is far from unequivocal. This is largely due to Hatoum’s impressive ability to construct what appear to be stereotypes and then complicate them.  This tension between type and textured complexity is most evident in the characters of Jano and Mundo, father and son, current owner and intended inheritor, respectively, of the family’s Jute exportation business and its visual symbol, Jano’s beloved Vila Amazonia. The Vila, up the Rio Negro river in the Amazon rainforest, is the novel’s dynastic core and […]