Ashes of the Amazon [Milton Hatoum]

There have been books that I’ve loved, where I’ve copied out pages of quotes and notes and had loads to write about, and have had to trim it all down lest I rewrite the whole thing, and there are books that I’ve disliked, but still had plenty to write about, after all, I enjoy a moan as much as the next Englishman (Englishwomen are also available). Then there is Ashes of the Amazon by Milton Hatoum.  Now while I’m loath to say it wasn’t very good, it wasn’t very.. no, what I will say is that I struggled to care. About any of it.

Not one of the characters engaged me enough to think, I want this to work out for them, or please tell me they get their comeuppance! I didn’t like any of them, but that is hardly important, who am I after all, but I couldn’t make myself interested in them.  I knew why Mundo was railing against his father, and though not something I have experienced, could appreciate the constant clashing between the two, but I just didn’t like Mundo enough to make me completely side with him and rush through the story.   The main narrator seemed pointless as far as I could make out, and the ending, while not entirely predictable, was mostly predictable.

What kept me going, apart from my stubborn refusal to stop reading books when life is too short and I have eleven sitting and waiting on my bookshelf, was the depiction of Manaus, the description of such a unique city and it’s streets and life, hemmed in by the Amazon and Rio Negro.

I looked at other reviews, which veered from 5 stars (I feel I may have missed the point) to 1 star (I feel quite generous), including some grumbling about the translation.  Aside from Good Morning and thank you, which don’t tend to lose their nuance in any language, I can’t comment, but perhaps something was lost in translation, maybe all the interesting characters.


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