A wonderfully entertaining account of a journey through one of the world’s least-known places.
Located in the northeast corner of South America and known collectively as Guiana, the nations of Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana are cut off from the rest of the continent by language and dense forests. With its history of slavery and civil wars, the region has left travelers from Evelyn Waugh to V.S. Naipaul unimpressed. Gimlette (Panther Soup: A European Journey in War and Peace, 2008, etc.), an insatiably curious storyteller, revels in the strange mix of people and traditions present in this “luminously lush and drenchingly fecund” world. Beginning in the 15th century, England, Holland, and France fought for more than 200 years over the sugar grown along the region’s 900-mile coast, leaving indelible imprints on these former colonies. Amid vivid descriptions of torrential rivers and golden grasslands that are home to some of the planet’s largest ants, otters and fish, the author recalls encounters with a stunning variety of intriguing characters: descendants of Scottish outlaws, Irish adventurers, Dutch conquerors and African-American slaves; miners, monks, rebels, sorcerers and pirates. Gimlette began his three-month trip in Georgetown, a slave-built city of canals, then headed into the bush and explored the remains of Guyana’s chief claim to fame, Jonestown, where 900 members of a religious cult committed suicide in 1978. The government has considered reopening the site to promote “dark tourism,” he writes. Pushing on by foot, boat and air, the author discovered strange forts, slave hideouts, remote Amerindian villages and French prisons that once held Captain Alfred Dreyfus and Henri Charrière (author of Papillon). All the while, he writes, creatures of the impenetrable forest sing, copulate, stink, glow and eat each other.
Colorful and immensely readable.