BOOK REVIEW / In Brief: The Old Man Who Read Love Stories by Luis Sepulveda, trs Peter Bush: Souvenir, pounds 10.99

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The Independent Culture
Although written with a simplicity which verges on the childlike, this ecologically conscious novel set in the Ecuadorian Amazon certainly isn't slight. Dedicated to the memory of murdered ecological activist Chico Mendes, it finds Chilean exile Luis Sepulveda launching a determined defence of the native Shuar Indians of Ecuador, whose way of life is, inevitably, under threat from the encroaching white man. When a crazed ocelot takes to attacking humans in the forest, the Old Man of the title, who was brought up by the Indians, is required to return to the forest to hunt it down. Already a bestseller in France, the novel is at its strongest when it details the customs of the endangered natives, whose balanced existence makes a dramatic contrast with the rapacity of the white settlers.