Utopian Journeys Across the South American Watershed
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 An erudite but lackluster interweaving of recent travels by Gott (literary editor of the London Guardian; Guerrilla Movements in Latin America, 1971) with more than four centuries of European forays into the South American interior and the vast swamplands of Bolivia, Paraguay, and Brazil. Many years of interest in and contact with the area have given Gott firsthand knowledge of the effect on native populations of prolonged exposure to Spanish, Portuguese, and other explorers. Annual flooding of the plain between the Plate and Amazon Rivers made movement difficult, but the early conquistadors persisted in their efforts to chart and subdue the land. Befriending, annihilating, and enslaving Indians according to their needs, these 16th-century travelers quickly antagonized the inhabitants and met with stiff resistance, which some tribes kept up for 300 years. While the first Europeans dreamed of finding silver and gold, a second wave of contact in the next century consisted of ambitious, mission-building Jesuits. In the adjacent Chiquitos and Mojos regions, more than 20 settlements, progressive in design, were founded as the clerics sought to transform hostile land into a highly cultured garden paradise. But as the remaining ruins attest, the utopian experiment did not long survive the Jesuits' forced removal from Spanish America in 1767. More recent visitors, such as Theodore Roosevelt and Claude LÇvi-Strauss, came to observe rather than to exploit, and railroads now bring tourists, but the destruction of the Indian way of life has already been completed. Thorough and relentless as a chronicle of centuries of strife- -but also severely fragmented and unable to reconcile its air of travelogue with a more compelling critical agenda. (Illustrations; maps.)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-86091-398-8
Page count: 300pp
Publisher: Verso
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1992