In a country that has suffered so much violence in the last half century plus, this is a heart-warming story of a man and books, a triumph of the human spirit that is not a cliché.
“I started out with 70 books, and now I have a collection of more than 4,800,” said Mr. Soriano, 36, a primary school teacher who lives in a small house here with his wife and three children, with books piled to the ceilings.
A whimsical riff on the bookmobile, Mr. Soriano’s Biblioburro is a small institution: one man and two donkeys. He created it out of the simple belief that the act of taking books to people who do not have them can somehow improve this impoverished region, and perhaps Colombia.
A breakthrough came several years ago when he heard excerpts over the radio of a novel, “The Ballad of Maria Abdala,” by Juan Gossaín, a Colombian journalist and writer. Mr. Soriano wrote a letter to the author, asking him to lend a copy of the book to the Biblioburro. After Mr. Gossaín broadcast details of Mr. Soriano’s project on his radio program, book donations poured in from throughout Colombia. A local financial institution, Cajamag, provided some financing for the construction of a small library next to his home, but the project remains only half-finished for lack of funds.
He fractured his left leg in a fall from one of his burros in July, leaving him with a limp. And some of his readers like the books they borrow so much that they fail to return them. Two books that vanished not long ago: an illustrated sex education manual, and a copy of “Like Water for Chocolate,” the Mexican writer Laura Esquivel’s novel about food and love in a traditional Mexican family.
And there are dangers inherent to venturing into the backlands around La Gloria. Two years ago, Mr. Soriano said, bandits surprised him at a river crossing, found that he carried almost no money, and tied him to a tree. They stole one item from his book pouch: “Brida,” the story of an Irish girl and her search for knowledge, by the Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho.
“For some reason, Paulo Coelho is at the top of everyone’s list of favorites,” said Mr. Soriano, hiding a grin under the shade of his sombrero vueltiao, the elaborately woven cowboy hat popular in Colombia’s interior.
Luis Soriano, a teacher from La Gloria, Colombia, traveled to the village of El Brasil with his Biblioburro on Oct. 11. The donkeys are named Alfa and Beto.