Learning by reading...

Luis Sepúlveda

Un viejo que leía novelas de amor

Reclam Fremdsprachentext

First published in 1989


(English: The Old Man Who Read Love Stories)


I can’t remember the last time I read a book this intensively. Probably never.

I enrolled in a second Spanish class taught by my teacher, solely because I heard they were reading this novel together. All of the other students are a couple of levels higher than I am, and I had to read through each chapter carefully at home, sometimes having to look up every other word (even though many translations are already given in this Reclam version especially for students) or puzzling over sentences for minutes on end, until I finally figured out – at least in most cases – the meaning.

It was slow going. But worth it. I loved it. Both the book and the experience. Of course you can do this on your own without a class, but I don’t always have the self-discipline to do this on a regular basis without that little extra nudge of having to prepare for class.

The protagonist of the novel, Antonio José Bolívar Proaño, an old man who discovered that being able to read was an “antidote against the poison of old age”, spent years living with the Shuar, learning how to hunt and live in the jungle after he was widowed. Now, because a stupid gringo has killed the cubs of an ocelot and wounded her mate, Antonio has to go hunt down the grief-crazed ocelot female which is killing humans.


Nature and humans, traditional societies versus so-called civilization, the reading of books (about suffering and hopeless loves, but with happy endings), are but just a few themes. There is a lot packed into these pages.


I learned new vocabulary, such as la huella (track), cerbatana (blowpipe), los borrachos (drunkards), el zarpazo (scratch or blow with a paw), and a few palabrotas (swear words). That you can ward off piranhas by rubbing the milk of the rubber tree onto your body and how to trap curious little monkeys with coconut shells. That it’s better to go barefoot in the jungle than to wear rubber boots.

And I just love this image of Antonio in front of his table (extra high so that he can eat and read standing up) facing the river which runs past his hut, deciphering the novels brought to him by the dentist who comes to El Idilio twice a year, letter by letter, word by word, puzzling over gondolas and streets made of water in Venice.


Curious? Read the book - in any language. (It has been translated into 46!)

You won’t regret it. Es fantástico!

Love languages too? Take a look at the Babbel.com website. Don’t even ask me how long I spent here yesterday…not learning a language, just reading their online magazine. I started off with the article ‘My Favorite German Words’ and ended up watching videos of polyglot twins testing how much Turkish they could learn in a week!


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