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Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 612

Alejo Carpentier's The Lost Steps is the story of a man who is searching for himself while he's on a journey to find ancient instruments for a friend.

The protagonist is not happy with his life in the big city. He feels his talents and dreams are being wasted; although he's a technical success, he doesn't feel personally fulfilled. He has a wife, a career, and a mistress but still yearns for something different that he can't quite define. His wife Ruth and mistress Mouche are both doing well in the city. Carpentier writes:

Mouche and her friends hoped thereby to arrive at greater control over themselves and at the acquisition of powers about which I had my doubts, especially in people who drank every day as a defense against despair, fear of failure, self-contempt, the shock of a rejected manuscript, or simply the harshness of that city of perennial anonymity amid the crowd, that place of relentless haste where eyes met only by accident and the smile on the lips of a stranger was a build-up for some kind of a proposition.

Even the prospect of his upcoming vacation can't fill him with happiness. He just feels a kind of existential dread that darkens every day. Even when his friend the Curator asks him to go to South America to find clay instruments for his research, he refuses. Eventually, Mouche convinces him to go and she travels with him to South America. As soon as he gets there, he feels happier. Carpentier says:

I said that the thing that impressed me most on this trip was the discovery that there were still great areas of the earth where people were immune to the ills of the day, and that here, even though many people were contented with a thatched roof, a water jug, a clay griddle, a hammock, and a guitar, a certain animism lived on in them, an awareness of ancient traditions, a living memory of certain myths which indicated the presence of a culture more estimable and valid, perhaps, than that which we had left behind. It was of greater value for a people preserve the memory of the Chanson de Roland than to have hot and cold running water.

The narrator recognizes that the trappings of modern society aren't what fulfills him. Rather, he's fulfilled by art, myth, and the simple life that people have there. They travel deep into the jungle where things are more primitive and less modern and the narrator is increasingly happy the deeper they go.

He eventually settles in a town founded by his compatriots. He lives with Rosario in the jungle and writes; he feels fulfilled despite some doubts about his circumstances. For example, his lover won't marry him and he needs certain supplies to continue writing. He's able to return to the city briefly to leave his wife, get items, and settle his affairs. He thinks, "I did not want to go. But I admitted to myself that what I lacked there could be summed up in two words: paper, ink."

He finishes up everything he needs to do in the city and then returns to South America to live the rest of his life in the village. However, he's unable to find it again. He hears that Rosario is having a baby with someone else; his hope for a life with her withers away. The path to the village is gone. He thinks, "One day I had made the unforgivable mistake of turning back, thinking a miracle could be repeated, and on my return I found the setting changed, the landmarks wiped out, and the faces of the guides new."

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