My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.
Isn’t it amazing that for all the millions of words and thousands of books written (including two of mine) about the Amazon rain forest, that almost none have been fiction. Novels about the greatest rain forest on the plant are rare. Even short stories and novellas are hard to find. And poems are rarer still.
South-East Asia has Conrad and Somerset Maughan, to name just two authors writing in English. Yet few novelists have tackled the mighty Amazon: Peter Mathieson’s “At Play in the Field of the Lord” is perhaps the best-known English language novel (it was made into a film). The English novelist W. H. Hudson’s “Green Mansions” is on the list. And, of course, Brazil’s own novelists have set stories within this vast part of their country. But it’s still remarkable how little fiction has been published about the rain forest.
When I was travelling in the forest in Peru, I remember thinking how strange that while scientists were encouraged (or at least not barred) from going very remote regions, artists were banned – yet song, music, paintings, stories are all part of how we understand a landscape. We understand nothing by science alone.
So it came as a pleasant surprise to pick up a novel by Canadian novelist Lesley Krueger that is partly set in the Amazon and partly in Rio de Janeiro. The writing is crisp, engaging and smooth. A couple from Canada with boys move to Rio. Husband Todd works for an environmental NGO and spends most of his time in the Amazon. Wife Holly lives in Rio with the children. To be clear, the novel is mainly about their marriage, expectations and the effects being in another culture can have on a marriage and a family, rather than thisbeing a novel purely about the Amazon. Personally I would have preferred if Holly and the boys also lived in the Amazon. The schools might not be as good but the education would have been superb.
I don’t want to spoil the story by giving away too much of the plot. But some of the characters in the Amazon ring very true and Krueger has a good understanding of the complexity of relationships and peoples’ lives in the rain forest. The “good” are not all good. The “bad” are redeemable – all except the pedophile, of course.
Call me cynical, but in the end I felt the novel suffers from the naivety of the Canadians expecting the world to be perfect, to be like life in Vancouver – where people are honest, loyal, non-violent, know right from wrong at half a mile and always do the best for the community and their family. Canada never was like that – just read the extraordinary history of this country – and this great Canadian myth gets in the way of narrative.
But if you come across “Drink the Sky” it’s well worth a Brazilian coffee, a comfy chair and a few hours of convincing story-telling.