Magdalena: River of Dreams (Review)

Brenda Schmidt (Quill and Quire) reviews Wade Davis’s Magdalena: River of Dreams (2020).

[. . .] Brimming with effusive praise for the people and place, Davis’s journey along the Magdalena with his knowledgeable Colombian companions and their network of connections – storytellers all – reads more like a lifelong quest. The present-day river and its surrounds, described in lyrical sentences that are often long, complex, and mighty – like the river itself – rub against the sharply drawn and carefully chosen historical passages showing the horror of the Spanish conquest, the genocide of Indigenous peoples, the importation of “some 400,000” slaves from Africa, and the horrors unleashed by the billionaire drug lord Pablo Escobar, whose former estate is now a tourist attraction and whose imported hippos established a troublesome feral population.

The request Davis makes is clear. With the promise of peace, long untouched areas of this ecologically rich and geographically diverse country are again accessible and vulnerable to development. The Magdalena, inseparable from the people and increasingly weighed down by pollution and indifference, needs immediate attention. He offers examples of dramatic turnarounds, such as the rehabilitation of the Hudson River below New York City and the successful clean-up of the Thames. He introduces us to Colombian musicians, urban planners, and a “soul keeper,” people who’ve channelled hope and initiated positive social change.

Part mourning song, part call to action, Magdalena carries dreams both good and bad, and the potential to awaken a life as bright as can be imagined.

For full review, see Also see  previous post and “Go with the flow: Colombia’s Magdalena river” by Brian Morton, The Tablet (subscription required)

Additional review:

The book:
Magdalena: River of Dreams
Wade Davis
Bodley Head, August 2020
432 pages
ISBN 978-1847926104 (hc)

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