Poor Man’s Galapagos, my new novel to be launched November 21, 2015 with Blue Denim Press, is set on an Ecuadorian island. The island is known as Isla de la Plata, or the Isle of Silver, due to the colour of its rocks. It is called Poor Man’s Galapagos due to its proximity (20 miles) to the coast, as the Galapagos Islands are 600 miles away. The Guardian (UK) calls Isla de la Plata “Ecuador’s other Galapagos” as it has some of the same wildlife, armadillos, monkeys, sea-lions, blue-footed boobies, and 200 species of birds for a fraction of the cost, and without the crowds.
In Poor Man’s Galapagos, an irrigation engineering student living on Isla de la Plata is conscripted into military service in a border war. That is the border war between Ecuador and Peru, which had been transpiring, on and off, for 200 years. A war over land, but mostly over the oil and uranium resources there. The war ended during the time I was in Ecuador, which was an excellent achievement for both sides. But in the novel, the main character Tomas is certain he will die a senseless death at the landmine-littered, disputed border between the two countries.
In Ecuador, there is a mandatory military service of one year. All of my friends from there were required to finish this year, and to engage in military activities in high school as well. I have often imagined what I would do if I was conscripted into war. My great-grandfather fought in World War I, and he left some letters behind which I read, intensifying my interest in that question. The novel explores what would happen if someone who, convinced they would die, decided to fight against conscription. At the same time the main character’s father, a renowned travel writer, has been accused of embezzling government funds and suddenly leaves the island. Tomas cannot leave the country, work, or go to school with his year of military service unfinished. So he must fight.
There was a government protest while I was in Ecuador, a protest against the president who had been in office for a few months of a four-year term. In the Postgraduate office at the Technical University of Manabi, talking with my brother on the phone, I was informed that there were protests and we were to leave the university immediately. I finished my phone call quickly and went outside to be confronted with the lingering scent of tear gas. Seeing protestors who had barricaded themselves within the confines of the university walls, I decided to take another exit. I wrote about that event shortly after it happened, and rewrote the scene for the novel. That comprises the book’s opening pages.
Tomas is an irrigation engineering student, modelled after some of the students I taught, and he studies the ancient albarradas in Ecuador and Peru. Albarradas are u-shaped irrigation embankments designed to trap rainwater for irrigation. There were new albarradas made recently in Ecuador which were washed out by the rains and mudslides of El Niño. But the ancient albarradas survived. Somehow the ancients knew what all of our modern technology could not predict. This is a question that intrigued me and, by extension, the novel’s main character.
More to come...