Within a framework of interwoven descriptions of the sights, sounds, and smells of the river and of the Calemar Valley, a series of human incidents are recounted, which feature many of the villagers and their visitors. Although most characters are not developed very fully, and it is the river itself (the golden serpent, as seen from above) which predominates, the story is structured around the adventures and personalities of a few individuals: An engineer, the raftsmen (Arturo, Roge, and the narrator), and the wise older folk (Matías, Juan Plaza, and others) are recurrent characters in the series of episodes.
The first major character introduced, the engineer from Lima, Osvaldo Martínez de Calderón, passes through the village on his way to explore the region, and his visit is an occasion for descriptions and explanations of customs that are strange to him (and to the reader). The stranger asks questions, and his host, Don Matías, tells of their lives as ferrymen, their exploits and myths, of Colluash the river monster, and of Roge’s foolhardy swim across the swollen river. Introduced in the second chapter, Osvaldo begins his survey of the region in the fourth. His new city clothes and life-style begin to seem insufficient, his belief that modern science has mastered everything is shaken, and he begins to understand native ways; he even chews coca to overcome high altitude sickness, although he previously rejected it with revulsion. Osvaldo returns in the fifteenth chapter, tattered and matured by his experiences yet still unadapted to the harsh environment. He suffers from mosquitoes, is made nervous by coca. He seems closer to the villagers, a man more like them, more able now to cope with the ferocity of the land, yet still a harbinger of unwelcome modernization and change.
Through the character of Osvaldo, Ciro Alegría is able to explain the attraction of Calemar without seeming pedantic or judgmental. Osvaldo is appalled by the violence and...
(The entire section is 807 words.)