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The (Future) Vista Cañas Library

Seducing the Spirits

(1 customer review)

Author: Louise Young

Length: 305 pages
Type: Fiction
Genre: General, Travel

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SKU: VC 14 Categories: , , , ,


“When Jenny Dunfree, a graduate student in tropical ornithology, is banished to a remote, Panamanian-sponsored birding project near the Columbian border, she is given one directive by her superior: Don’t tick anyone off. Almost immediately, Jenny encounters problems with this assignment. The study site where she’s sent to observe nesting harpy eagles is located near an indigenous village, and upon arrival she’s informed that her attendance is mandatory at many community functions. Jenny finds the native Kuna people to be a prickly lot, quick to take offense; their values, language, and customs incomprehensible to her. Equally confusing is the surrounding rainforest with its myriad of unknown and impossible to identify species. Her bewilderment extends even to the nesting eagles which the project’s founder, a prominent raptor authority, insisted were rare harpy eagles but as far as Jenny can tell are a lesser species of no interest to the Republic of Panama or any other national entity. With no option out, Jenny slogs on with the research and her required attendance at weekly town hall meetings in the Kuna village. Jenny’s liaison with the native people is Pedro, a man whose early education at a mission school left him fluent in English but cynical and detached from his own culture. As weeks pass, Jenny becomes acquainted with other members of the community: Eulogio, the handsome and charismatic leader; shy Iris who married and then was abandoned by Jenny’s predecessor in the harpy eagle project; the racially prejudiced Anselmo; and Ceferino, in whom Jenny discovers a shared passion for the natural world. In this lawless frontera, Jenny also encounters outsiders with their own agendas for the Kunas and the surrounding rainforest. Through her eyes, the reader is drawn into Kuna culture and its struggle to retain a traditional identity in the face of erosion from both outside and within the community.”


1 review for Seducing the Spirits

  1. Janet Dore

    Although Seducing the Spirits wasn’t the scientific sojourn into Panama’s rainforest that I expected, it did give me some valuable insight that will serve me well as an expat living in Panama.

    I thought I was embarking on a non-fiction journey with a real life young ornithologist student who would be sharing her observations of the harpy eagle and its habitat on one of the San Blas Islands. It turned out to be something quite different…

    First, it’s definitely a novel—and a bit of a steamy one at that. 😄 While the main character, Jenny, is an ornithologist, she doesn’t share much about her long hours spent observing the eagles. Pretty understandable, as I imagine that might have a similar effect as a sleeping pill. The author’s focus is more on Jenny’s interactions with the Kuna people (primarily men) and the two quirky white visitors (also men) who pop in for occasional visits.

    While from a purely literary perspective, this book fell a bit short for me, I’m definitely glad I read it as it gave me some helpful insight into the modern day Kuna culture. The result is deeper understanding and empathy for a people that fiercely protect their culture for good reason.

    If you’re on a mission to learn more about Panamá as I am, this is a worthy read!

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