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The speaker of this powerful novel presents a very unequivocal message in this story: Western society is bad for traditional cultures such as the Machiguengas, and is potentially lethal. The narrator is profoundly ambivalent about the work of the missionaries, finding in them people he both admires and fears in equal measure. At the same time, as he thinks about the changes that have occurred in the Amazon, he is very aware of the negative repercussions of those changes on the Machiguengas:
First cam the oil wells, and with them, camps for those who were taken on as workers... Later on, or at the same time, the drug traffic began, and, like a biblical plague, spread its network of coca plantations, laboratories and landing strips... And finally... terrorism and counterterrorism.
There is no way in which the Machiguengas exposure to society has been good for them, but at the same time the author seems to offer some hope that in response to these terrors, the Machiguengas will respond by retreating to wandering again. The question left in the mind of the reader is whether this is an option in the 20th century when so much of the jungle has been discovered and deforestation is rampant. The Machiguengas need to be isolated from society, the book argues, to maintain their distinctive culture and identity.
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