Fellow travellers

Not having visited the tropics has not been seen as a drawback for a number of writers who have written ‘rainforest’ novels. Jenny Diski who wrote “Rainforest” (1987) – which is a fine novel – happily admits that for her research she visited London’s Kew Gardens.

Earlier, Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle’s action-adventure stories found inspiration in nineteenth century travelogues and the popular interest given to scientific discoveries, including Darwin’s Origin of Species. Similarly, their stories also caught the imagination of the public. Verne´s “Le Radeau” [The Giant Raft] (1881) is set in the Peruvian Amazon, and Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World” (1912), a forerunner of Jurassic Park, is loosely located in the northern Amazonian region.

But other ‘outsiders’ have had a varying degree of success in their evocation of tropical forests. Evelyn Waugh’s “Handful of Dust” (1934) which includes a ludicrous detour to the Amazon to resolve the protagonists’ marital problems is one of his best-forgotten novels. If Waugh’s Tony and Brenda Last’s moral compass is wonky, the eponymous hero of Brian Hennigan´s comedy “Patrick Robertson: A Tale of Adventure” (2006) is happily unencumbered by any moral dilemmas. The Thai jungle provides a backdrop to this frankly preposterous but very amusing tale of an utterly self-centred salesman, lured in a hotel bar and kidnapped by an eco-terrorist group (the self-styled People’s Earth Friendly Liberation Group) having mistaken him for his namesake from the IMF. Continue reading “Fellow travellers”


Eduardo Galeano

Eduardo Galeano’s best-known works are “Las venas abiertas de América Latina” [The Open Veins of Latin America] (1971) and “Memoria del fuego” [Memory of Fire] (1982-1986). Neither are necessarily works of fiction and only a few references are made to forests. Nonetheless, he is a giant amongst Latin American writers and political commentators.

As the author himself recognises it is hard to classify his work. He writes in The Open Veins of Latin America: “I know that I can be accused of sacrilege in writing about political economy in the style of a novel about loves or pirates. But I confess I get a pain reading valuable works by certain sociologists, political experts, economists, and historians who write in code”. Likewise: “Memory of Fire is not an anthology…I don’t know if it is a novel or essay or epic poem or testament or chronicle or…Deciding robs me of no sleep. I do not believe in the frontiers that, according to literature’s custom officers, separate the forms.”

His message is, however, unambiguous: “… underdevelopment in Latin America is a consequence of development elsewhere, that we in Latin America are poor because the ground we tread is rich, and that places privileged by nature have been cursed by history”. His essays show how the continent’s natural resources, including its forests, have been exploited since the 15th century – five centuries of pillage. Continue reading “Eduardo Galeano”