Every 20 years or so, Efrain Rodriguez and I bump into each other. And that affords us a chance to size up our lives. We revisit those old Golden Questions: Where have we been? Where are we? Where are we heading?
I met Efrain in southern Peru back in the 1960s. He was a kid called “Coco” then. And he’d been recruited and groomed by a Marxist revolutionary group.
He wanted out.
He wanted to become a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Peruvian LDS members were thrilled about it.
The Marxists, not so thrilled.
They made his life unlivable, to the point of threatening to kill him.
Efrain fled to the United States, where he was granted diplomatic amnesty. He later became a citizen.
Now, let's fast-forward to the 1990s, when we connected again. This time in Salt Lake City.
Efrain had written a novel in Spanish called “The Last Inca Chief.” It was the tale of a humble peasant — a seer or sorts — who learned he was a descendant of Inca royalty. The pages were filled with the old man’s wisdom, much of it with LDS overtones. The book did very well. Efrain once saw it in the hands of a Peruvian vice president. Europeans took to it. I remember at the time wishing it were in English.
Well, now it is.
A couple of weeks ago, Efrain and I met up again, this time for lunch.
We barely recognized each other. I’ve gone from a dashing, young missionary to a dude who could pass as body-double for the Pillsbury Doughboy.
Coco has held up much better. He’s taken better care of himself. Still, there’s age in his eyes, and experience. His sons have gone on LDS missions. He’s been true to the faith for which martyrs have perished. And — yes — he has finally brought “The Last Inca Chief” into English. He emailed me a copy before our lunch.
“To create some interest among members of the church, I’ve changed the title to ‘The Last Lamanite Chief,’” he told me over enchiladas. “A former missionary companion translated the book for me.”
“He did a bang-up job,” I said.
“Right now it’s only available online,” Efrain said. “If anyone’s interested, they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If this book does well, I have another one ready to go.”
The nice thing is I can honestly recommend the book — especially to members of the LDS faith who may be curious how a Peruvian kid who was supposed to grow up to be Fidel Castro grew up to be a Mormon author instead, an author who has touched the hearts of his countrymen, impressed the leaders of his nation and found sympathetic readers around the world.