cover image Wild Coast: Travels on South America's Untamed Edge

Wild Coast: Travels on South America's Untamed Edge

John Gimlette. Knopf, $27.95 (368p) ISBN 9780307272539

Travel writer Gimlette offers a rare glimpse of a forgotten region: the formerly European colonies of Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana, commonly known as the Guianas. As he describes his travels from coast to forest, through what he depicts as a muddy, rotting, stinking, stagnant landscape, he quickly realizes that Sir Walter Raleigh's 1596 account of bountiful riches might have bent the truth. The first quarter of the book reads like a Devil in the White City-style true crime account as he searches for the ghosts of the Reverend Jim Jones' Jamestown massacre of 1977. Gimlette then follows the footsteps of such notables as novelist Evelyn Waugh and V.S. Naipul, encountering natives as well as a sociologically-intriguing population "descended from people who'd rather have been somewhere else." Turning his attention to linguistics, Gimlette discuses certain humorous facts about the Surinamese language, "Talkie-talkie," in which "I love you" translates as "Mi lobi yu." Though Gimlette provides occasional humor, he lacks Bill Bryson's ability to provoke a belly laugh. The balance between history and travelogue would be an asset to curious travelers, but doesn't make a good case as to the appeal of doing so. (June)