Ocean Hermit – sailing, solitude and stories

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.

* That rare bird – a novel about the Amazon

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.

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One comment on “* That rare bird – a novel about the Amazon

  1. mark tozzio
    August 20, 2011

    Born in California in 1951, I moved to Brazil with my parents at age 9. I lived 9 years in Brazil – Rio and Sao Paulo. I was educated in a Brazilian school — Colegio de Sao Bento in Rio and speak fluent Portuguese. I returned to Washington State in 1970 and then attended the University of Washington from 1971 to 1975. I wrote my thesis at UW in 1975 on the human adaptation to Amazonia — the first study of the Human Ecology of the Tropics — with an extensive bibliography (most extensive at that time. Later I tried to creat the Organization for Human Ecological Studies in the Tropics (OHEST) but could not get funding. Later my life’s work focused on healthcare and I have written extensively on that topic as well. After visitng Rio last year in October, I would like to republish my original thesis work on Amazonia and add a new section that updates the situation — unfortunately, as you know, the situation for the indigenous population has deteriorated drastically. The environmental destruction is progressing fast. I think that your knowledge and writing skills would complement my research and recent experiences for a new book. Would you consider co-authoring this work? Thanks, mark 918-521-7468.

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This entry was posted on May 27, 2011 by in Book Reviews and tagged , , , .
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