The Lost Steps narrates a journey, through space and back through time, to the most remote origins of Latin American history. The novel, which is written in the first person, can be read as a diary kept by the unnamed narrator-protagonist as he flees mechanized civilization in search of a more primordial existence. The dated entries which provide the basic structure for the novel are augmented by the narrator’s fragmented recollections of the past and his meditations on art, culture, and history.
As the novel begins, the narrator is surveying the set of a long-running play about the antebellum South; in this play, his wife, Ruth, has a leading role. The play is a resounding commercial success despite its banality, and as he surveys the soiled costumes and the dwarf magnolias the narrator is overcome by boredom and loneliness. Once a promising young composer and musicologist, he now prostitutes his talents in an advertising agency. Neither the automatic nature of his weekly sexual relations with Ruth nor the frenetic, pseudo-intellectual gaiety of Mouche and her friends can satisfy him. Every aspect of his life seems mechanical and uninspired. Faced with the beginning of a three-week vacation, he feels empty and disoriented.
A chance encounter with his old friend and employer, the Curator, whom he has not seen for several years, presents the narrator with a unique opportunity. The Curator reminds him of his earlier work on primitive instruments and of his theories on the origins of music and asks him to travel to South America during his vacation to acquire a number of indigenous clay instruments for the museum. The narrator initially rejects the offer, but finally Mouche convinces him to go, announcing that she will accompany him.
The second chapter opens with their arrival in an unspecified South American city. The central role that geography will play in the novel becomes more explicit. The narrator hears once again the language of his childhood and is haunted by memories of his early years. In these new surroundings...
(The entire section is 843 words.)