Wild Coast

Wild Coast

Travels On South America's Untamed Edge

Book - 2011
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Describes the author's visit to South America's lesser-known Guianese coast, where he toured the coastal towns, torrential rivers, and dense forests of Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana, in an account that also describes the region's remarkable wildlife and violent history.
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.
Edition: 1st U.S. ed.
ISBN: 9780307272539
0307272532
Characteristics: 358 p. : ill. (some col.), map ; 25 cm.

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diannehildebrand
Feb 15, 2019

John Gimlette is an astonishingly good writer and this book had my full attention from start to finish, although I couldn't read every part. It's a travel book about the three Guianas on the north coast of South America, surrounded by the Atlantic, Brazil and Venezuela. When I started to read it, I thought, "This is an optimistic Paul Theroux." Gimlette does seem to be an even-keeled traveler - in spite of terrible inconveniences and apparently mostly awful food and accommodations, he only carefully describes these things, without complaining at all. The evenhandedness remains throughout the book, but the cheery aspect certainly falls apart early on. He consistently goes back and forth from past to present, telling the painful history of these countries (including the bizarre Jim Jones saga which played out in Guyana), and then segueing back to the almost equally sad and painful present. The book forced me to think once again with shock and horror about man's extreme inhumanity to man. Gimlette doesn't shy away from the grisly descriptions of war and hatred. There's a lot of hacking off of body parts and cannibalism, not to mention extreme discomfort, both in the past and present and the huge sense of defeat and hopelessness of many residents in all three countries. This Coast is hot and humid and infested with bugs and traditionally with disease as well. Poverty is endemic, with odd pockets of prosperity - a space centre, some mining, but little of the profits seem to trickle down to the residents. Gimlette frequently refers to the great beauty, but he's less successful in showing that to his readers than he is in describing the horrors. A meticulously researched book, very detailed. A side effect of reading it, for me, is awe and thankfulness for the peace and comfort of my life. I've traveled in South America (Ecuador, Paraguay, Brazil), so I could "feel the vibe" as similar, but had never realized the horrendous history of these colonized countries.

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patcarstensen
Jun 29, 2017

It's a fun look at geography and history they never quite got to when you took these subjects in school.

BostonPL_LauraB May 16, 2017

This was the perfect blend of travelogue and history about region I knew absolutely nothing about (except for the mass suicide in Jonestown). I very much enjoyed the way in which this story was told and therefore I have added more of his books to my list, especially since he seems to do countries/regions oft-forgotten.

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santiano9
Aug 20, 2016

Enjoyed this book very much. Gave me great insight into a part of the world I will never visit. Recommended.

ChristchurchLib Aug 12, 2013

"At the top of South America, between Venezuela and Brazil, most of the citizens of three countries - Guyana (previously British Guiana), Suriname (formerly Dutch Guiana), and French Guiana - live in coastal towns along the 900-mile shoreline. Their fellow citizens make their homes in the jungle that starts about 10 miles inland. Due to their geography, the countries are part of but somewhat separate from South America (they are also the only mainland countries on the continent that never belonged to Spain or Portugal). Recounting his travels around the Guianas, John Gimlette evocatively and entertainingly describes the land's violent history, its amazing insects (the biggest ants in the world live here!), its forbidding landscape, and the people who call it home. Humourous yet full of facts and information, Wild Coast may please J. Maarten Troost's many fans." August 2013 Armchair Travel newsletter http://www.nextreads.com/Display2.aspx?SID=5acc8fc1-4e91-4ebe-906d-f8fc5e82a8e0&N=664860

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ididarodkid
Jun 17, 2012

If you have interest to explore areas of this world that are not 'in the news', this is a book you might appreciate. The diversification of the population of this area, and how it all seems to 'hum' along is testament to how people can disagree, dislike, and still forge a life. The very need of food, shelter, and the relief that entertainment provides dictates a certain amount of interaction and tolerance.

The history is a tapestry woven from the past to produce the existence today where old grudges and taboos still exist along with TV and mobile phones. The simplicity of it all seems to make it all work one way or another.

While the book in some ways is overly long in history, it does tie the past and the present and one is left with the wonder of just how this seemingly dysfunctional region seems to survive in a perplexing manner. And for all the lack, for me, at least, there is a small envy for that childlike naivete, trust and acceptance of what is that we sometimes lack.

Just to be transported to a life style born of the many countries exploring, fighting and controlling a region, is to be a lesson in history and consequences. The people who were a part of this beg admiration of spirit, but wonder of what made them tick.

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