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...
(The entire section is 612 words.)