THE FEVER COAST LOG: At Sea in Central America by Gordon Chaplin

THE FEVER COAST LOG: At Sea in Central America

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A personal travelogue of Central America, fuzzily in the manner of Graham Greene. Chaplin--a sometime journalist--and a female companion sail down from Mexico along the coasts of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, with brief sojourns in Costa Rica and Panama. There seems to be little reason for the voyage except that no American vessel has ventured into Nicaraguan waters since the Sandinistas took power, and that Chaplin wants to retrace the voyage taken by a dead relative, Frederick Catherwood, who illustrated the Mayan finds of archaeologist John Lloyd Stephens. There are rumors of pirates and worries about troubles with Sandinistas--who, as the tale unfolds, are about to relinquish power to the Chamorro government. No disasters strike, however; the Sandinistas offer red tape, but no real trouble. The ordinary people Chaplin runs into are remarkable for how kind they are, particularly since Chaplin doesn't seem very kind himself, spoiled rich, perhaps, and striking the reader as a lost soul--e.g., in his clever description of himself as a Central American country: ""my seedy yet respectable...British...colonial past; my shadowy, inscrutable, rich, powerful...American...connections. I have crippling problems in dealing with outside authority, and yet I can never seem to get my own act together."" As a spiritual journey, this is a bogus trip, borrowing from the trappings of earlier narratives but with none of their fire or any real sense of risk. But as description--of pristine, charming Belize; of a ramshackle Nicaragua brought down by the superpower foreign policies; of the wild beauty of Guatemala and the civilization of Costa Rica--this is often very fine. Chaplin draws on historical sources with insight, and the search for the meaning of his heritage becomes more affecting as we learn about his confused relationship with his wealthy father, for whom the book was in part written. Nonetheless, Chaplin strains for charm but seems barely able to behave himself, simultaneously. A so-so account.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1992
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster