Tragedy stalks the periphery of an acclaimed travel writer’s eerily hypnotic journey deep into the heart of Colombia’s most mysterious river.
A few years ago, buoyed by a blessing from the great Gabriel García Márquez, the author decided to seek the source of the legendary Magdalena River in a tugboat. With Alzheimer’s already claiming his father's life and his mother's life now also nearing its end, the strangely languid tributary so closely tied to disappearance, loss and forgetting had come to represent an intensely personal pilgrimage that the author found he could simply not ignore. The result is a lushly written account of that ethereal experience. Throughout the journey, the potential for danger patiently laid in wait. The author provides both the complicated history of his parents and the nation of Colombia, and the hero of this often harrowing adventure was never quite convinced that the smart thing to do wasn't to just give up and abandon the quest. “The place filled me with an energy that magically dispersed the uncertainty of the past few days, together with that persistent sense of being on a journey towards some inescapable tragedy,” he writes. The Magdalena, it turns out, in addition to its lore of lost memories, is actually home to a hotbed of Alzheimer’s, and the author hoped investigating it would help him better understand the scourge that destroyed both his parents’ lives—and someday might also visit his as well. The river, with its own languid pace, was not about to give up its secrets so readily, however. This is a tortured part of the world with a tragically bloody history of political and economic strife involving guerrilla bands, paramilitary outfits and the army. Jacobs had to navigate through all of it in the hope that his memories would somehow endure.
A well-rendered travelogue and a profound excursion into what it means to remember and forget.