THE SADDEST PLEASURE: A Journey on Two Rivers by Moritz Thomsen

THE SADDEST PLEASURE: A Journey on Two Rivers

Email this review


A former Peace Corps worker and author of Living Poor and The Farm on the River of Emeralds (1978), Thomsen completes the trilogy with this soul-baring account--introduced by Paul Theroux--of his journey as a 63-year-old gringo through Brazil. Born into a wealthy family in the Pacific Northwest, Thomsen grew up listening to tales of his Danish grandfather's capitalist ventures south of the border. Rebelling in middle age against his ultra-conservative father's attempts to control his son through his wealth, Thomsen escaped to South America to become a Peace Corps worker in Ecuador. But it took several years for Thomsen to realize that instead of improving the Ecuadorians' lot, he was, if anything, acting as an unwitting emissary for the capitalist system he'd rejected. He quit to buy a farm on the Rio Esmerelda, operating it in partnership with a local friend. Twelve years later, his friend kicked the aging American off the farm. Stunned at being told he ""didn't belong here"" by his adopted family and unable to come up with anything more useful to do, Thomsen embarked on a trip across Brazil. In vivid, disarmingly candid prose, he re-creates economically precarious Rio, graceful Bahia with its artists and intellectuals, and the Amazon River, lined with one-room shacks and millionaires' rancheros--all the while mourning the widening chasm between rich and poor in South America and implicitly comparing its dependence on the West to his own experience as both a product of capitalism and a hopeless rebel against its corrupting influence. Thomsen concludes with a quote from a philosophical Dutchman he meets along the way: ""Man is man; he will never change. . .We have a contact with God; he is using us to bring peace to the universe. We must go out there and one by one snuff out the stars."" Oddly, when voiced by this exceptionally determined seeker, even these words leave an aftertaste of humor and optimism. An intensely personal, captivating exploration.

Pub Date: March 15th, 1990
Publisher: Graywolf