THE WORLD IS BURNING by Alex Shoumatoff


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In the Amazon, says travel-writer Shoumatoff (African Madness, 1988; In Southern Light, 1986, etc.), the truth is not firmly lodged in facts and figures. And on the subject of the work and murder of rubber-tapper organizer Chico Mendes, the politics are so devious and far-reaching, the motives so layered, the rumors so wild and the informants so polarized that many versions and interviews had to be sifted in preparing this book. In fact, the book appears to be as much about the sifting as the subject. It's mostly a first-person account of interviews and of Shoumat off's comings and goings, even when the real subject is local badmen, Brazilian policy, or the greenhouse effect. This approach succeeds in convincing readers that the Mendes allies featured in Andrew Revkin's The Burning Season (p. 637) are only one faction. But it also makes for disjointed reading, without Revkin's readable clarity and orientation or the depth of history and analysis that Susanna Hecht and Alexander Cockburn provide in The Fate of the Forest (1989). And though Shoumatoff conveys a lot of insights (e.g., that cattle ranching and its attendant fires are only a smokescreen for Amazonian land speculation) and suggestions (that first-world environmental concern for the rain forest, for instance, may be a smokescreen for international maneuvering involving George Bush, the CIA, and the Japanese), he gets mired in day-to-day Amazonian politics, prime suspects' denials of complicity in the murder, and, above all, the media exploitation and jockeying for film rights in which he has played a large part. (Shoumatoff's earlier Vanity Fair piece on the subject has been acquired for a Robert Redford film.) Shoumatoff smolders while the world burns--read the Revkin instead.

Pub Date: Aug. 31st, 1990
Publisher: Little, Brown