José Eustasio Rivera's seminal novel about the geographical vastness and mystical power of the Amazonian jungle, and the heartless exploitation of its riches and its inhabitants. This is a mishmash of a novel which has perplexed Latin American critics, while receiving praise as one of the great Latin American novels.

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José Eustasio Rivera, The Vortex: A Novel, Trans. by John Charles Chasteen, Duke University Press Books, 2018. [1924.]

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Published in 1924 and widely acknowledged as a major work of twentieth-century Latin American literature, José Eustasio Rivera's The Vortex follows the harrowing adventures of the young poet Arturo Cova and his lover Alicia as they flee Bogotá and head into the wild and woolly backcountry of Colombia. After being separated from Alicia, Arturo leaves the high plains for the jungle, where he witnesses firsthand the horrid conditions of those forced or tricked into tapping rubber trees. A story populated by con men, rubber barons, and the unrelenting landscape, The Vortex is both a denunciation of the sensational human-rights abuses that took place during the Amazonian rubber boom and one of the most famous renderings of the natural environment in Latin American literary history.

"When in 1928 Jose Eustasio Rivera died in New York, he was intent on finding an American publisher to bring out his environmentalist novel The Vortex in English. Ironically, the environmentalist concerns he addressed are as timely as ever."--Ilan Stavans

"With John Charles Chasteen's translation of The Vortex, Jose Eustasio Rivera's seminal novel about the geographical vastness and mystical power of the Amazonian jungle, and the heartless exploitation of its riches and its inhabitants, should garner new fans in the English-speaking world. Chasteen's restrained yet evocative lyricism succeeds in breathing vibrant new life into Rivera's depiction of the clash of two civilizations, the tragedy that ensued, and the repercussions that are felt to this day. This absorbing translation makes clear why The Vortex is as relevant today as it was when the novel was first published almost one hundred years ago."--Jaime Manrique

A translation from the Spanish -- and a novel with much the same appeal as Jungle which came from the Portuguese of De Castro (Viking -- p. 2, January 1st Issue). An emotional Latin-American is the central figure in a story about the battle for the wealth of the jungle, tapping for rubber. Not as direct as Jungle -- but again a depiction of the awfulness of the rubber tapper's slavery, a searing picture of jungle life. Tragic in its finale, tragic in its implications. - Kirkus Reviews
The Vortex, by José Eustasio Rivera, is one of those bona fide Latin-American classics which no one in the English-speaking world has read because a) it was written before One Hundred Years of Solitude, and b) it remains largely unobtainable.
It fits into a group of novels referred to as “regionalist” – written in the first few decades of the twentieth-century – whose other most “well-known” examples are Güiraldes’ Don Segundo Sombra (which I read last year) and Gallegos’ Doña Bárbara (which I shall be reading this year).
It’s split into three parts. The first is very reminiscent of Don Segundo Sombra – it’s set in the plains, mostly on horseback, in a man’s world, where women have to content themselves with merely staying at home and using their unfaithfulness to instill in men a sense of disillusion about the world. If there’s a difference, it’s in the motivation of our hero: in Don Segundo Sombra, he wants to become a gaucho, he idealises the life;  in The Vortex, our hero, a native of Bogotá, leaves the city (with his girlfriend) and simply goes out into the plains to “drop out”. In fact, there’s something very sixties about this whole novel: it’s one long journey, which is in reality an exploration into the self.
The part set in the plains is so-so, on a par with Don Segundo Sombra, but the novel really comes alive in the second part, where our hero, having seen his girl run off with a man who is essentially a bandit and being himself framed for murder, leaves the plains and plunges with a gang of followers into the jungle, vowing revenge. This trip through the jungle and into the world of the Indian tribes who live there is even more sixties; it’s reminiscent in its aimless madness of Aguirre, Wrath of God or – perhaps even more – Barbet Schoeder’s The Valley. People get killed or drift off into insanity, are stricken by disease and start suffering from hallucinations. It becomes increasingly unclear what they’re looking for, and whether any of it is worth such trauma.
But then, in the third part, the novel becomes much more of a social and political critique of the rubber-tapping economy of the jungles and the people-trafficking and slavery which have resulted – a world, I admit, I was unaware of, but which is much the same as the Belgian Congo of a few years earlier. Of course, all this travelling up rivers and cruel exploitation of the country and its people, this picture of a world where the leaders are beyond the control of the state, one might be inclined to think of Heart of Darkness – and maybe I would, if I’d read it more recently (there is even a crazed Colonel who’s become the legendary ruler of the area after engaging in some sort of massacre) – but it reminded me a lot more of Hochschild’s non-fiction account of the Congo exploitation, King Leopold’s Ghost. There is something, unfortunately, terribly didactic about these passages – large witness statements are levered into the narrativeand break up its rhythm. But there remain still some interesting passages: the horde of ants who destroy everything in their path, for instance, (a theme which reappears into Latin American literature); and at the end there are quite a lot of needlessly gruesome deaths. -

It is strange that Jose Eustasio Rivera (b. Neiva-Huilla 1886) died young in New York, not because a visit from the Grim Reaper is unusual for anyone, but because it reached the author of The Vortex so suddenly, when it was in that very metropolis that his work was discovered and republished in English.
“An extraordinary poet” said Horacio Quiroga, the Paraguayan writer, who only knew him “with lots of water and earth in between’”from a few letters. This other great of Latinamerican storytelling called on Rivera’s work to be considered an epic poem, “where the jungle, tropical, with its atmosphere, climate, its shadows, its rivers, its industries and its miseries, trembles with an epic pulse never before reached in Colombian literature”.
Horacio Quiroga calles Jose Eustasio Rivera “poet of the jungle”, a man who came from the country that suffered for five years from the War of the Triple Alliance – the Paraguayan War – in collusion with England, Brazil and Argentina, ending with the revolutionary project that redeemed his people from European colonisation.
Quiroga, also said that the author of sonnets, Land of Promise, began to published these works in Bogota’s magazines and newspapers after they were written exactly 100 years ago, with  his own love and knowledge of the jungle adopted as members of the Colombian delegation for marking the border frontier with Venezuela.
Rivera, on a tour of the south of the country serving in that same delegation, knew of “the horrors of Putumayo”, the dark heart of the exploitation of natural rubber so badly needed for cars and lorries by multinationals and their involvement in the First World War, which this year marks its centenary with trumpets, cannon fire, and the flowers of world leaders, placed on the tombs of those sacrificed in the name of big business.
José Eustasio Rivera denounced the appalling suffering of the indigenous population of this vast region, lost and abandoned inside the national territory because of the constitutional centrality of 1886.
The plunder was caused by the financial worth of this international bank of rubber. The inquisitive gaze of the poet covered not only this immense region, but the severity of the abuse it underwent.
Horacio Quiroga described the protagonists of The Vortex as “impulsive, emotional, headstrong, honest, drunk, and generous”. These are essential characteristics of the Colombian, who stripped himself of “honest”, offering a different view from abroad. That is to say, among an oligarchic, corrupt and mafia-like multitude, who had ruled over the country for centuries, his destiny was marked to go nowhere.
In the Riverian novel-like work, the opening paragraph reads: “Before I became passionate about any woman, I gambled with my heart and violence won”. For the heart of a Colombian is won by conflicts and fanaticism too, which does not finish on the battlefield, but above all in the minds.
At Rivera’s request, Quiroga was commissioned to write the prologue to the North American edition, but as was hinted at in the beginning, the Colombian writer died mysteriously in New York – the headquarters of savage capitalism – before his time, on the 19th of February 1928. One year before the great economic crisis.
But, which jungle is José Eustasio Rivera writing about? (Translated by Daniela Fetta)
Armando Orozco Tovar

This is a mishmash of a novel which has perplexed Latin American critics, while receiving praise as one of the great Latin American novels. Is it about the brutal exploitation of the rubber workers, so eloquently portrayed by Rivera, and picked up by the critics as the key theme of the novel? In reality, given the quotations at the beginning of the novel and the passion with which he describes this exploitation, it is clearly an important aspect of the novel for the author but, in reality, only becomes an issue around half way through the book. Is it the adventure story, which runs the gamut from Arturo Cova... The Modern Novel read more here