Books have always been a source of inspiration, information and even comfort for travellers but until now you could only pack as many books as you could comfortably carry. Luckily for us, e-readers present the perfect solution to this age-old problem and now the traveller’s only constraint is the number of decent ebooks on the market. In this blog series, Cascada scours the internet so you don’t have to, picking out and reviewing the best Patagonia-related ebooks for your trip, to help you choose which to download and which to dismiss. You won't find any guidebook reviews here, this is a space for novels, travelogues, memoirs… anything that will get you in the mood for your journey to Patagonia.
We kick of this blog series with a review of The River of Desire by Simon Worrall, with thanks to the author for the review copy.
The River of Desire: A Journey of the Heart Through Patagonia
Simon Worrall Ventures (April 25, 2011)
Kindle Edition $8.99
When critically acclaimed writer, Simon Worrall, travels to Patagonia on assignment for National Geographic Magazine, he encounters one of the planet’s last wild places: a vast, windblown landscape peopled by colorful characters – a Catholic priest on his way to The South Pole; a woman living alone in The Mountains of The Wind; gauchos, misfits and eccentrics. But as the wind chases chases him south towards the ends of the earth, he also tells his own story: a story of desire and lost love, and one man's search for his place in the world. On the way, he visits some of the places that inspired Charles Darwin's Origin of Species. Applying Darwin's ideas to his own life, Worrall explores his own origins and his evolution as a man and a father, with an honesty that is sometimes shocking. The result is not just another exotic, travel book. Instead, Worrall delivers a powerful story of love and adventure that will take its place alongside such classics as Bruce Chatwin's "In Patagonia" and "The Snow Leopard' by Peter Matthiessen.
The River of Desire is a strange beast; the result of an uneasy marriage between a beautifully observed odyssey through Patagonia and a brutally honest dissection of the author’s troubled private life. Yet the fact that this marriage is ultimately doomed to failure actually does the book more good than harm, since it becomes the perfect mirror for exploring the author’s inability to hold his own relationships together. In other words, the less the two threads of the plot hang together, the more we understand Worrall's emotional conflict.
If you arrive at this book by way of Worrall’s other writing and work for National Geographic Magazine you won’t be disappointed by what you find. The chapters focussing on his journey through Patagonia drip with the same rich, eloquent prose that he has always used to such great effect. Worrell describes the landscapes, animals, cities, people and cultures he encounters on his journey through Patagonia in evocative detail, conjuring up powerful images of condors and river dolphins, one-horse towns and forceful gales, beautiful women and the desolate steppe.
Although he takes an early pot-shot at photographers – who receive more glory and more money than writers, apparently – Worrall’s descriptions of Patagonia are in fact extraordinarily pictorial. He has a fine appreciation of colour, toying with comparisons between the land and the work of Kandinsky, Klee, Hirst, Duchamp, Turner and Cézanne amongst others. This provides a vivid visual experience, even if you have very little knowledge of the region, and steeps you in the atmosphere of the place. From start to finish, he peppers the text with frequent and powerful allusions to Patagonia’s legendary winds, leaving you in no doubt of just how violent and unrelenting the gales at the end of the world can be.
By contrast, the passages in which Worrall recounts his disintegrating family relationships are told in an urgent and immediate style, dialogue-led and stripped of the romanticism he paints onto the rest of his life. The bareness of the text reflects the honesty of the revelations; Worrall is refreshingly open and is at his most sympathetic as a narrator when recognising his own failings and mistakes in these chapters. The clash between these two approaches may feel jolting, however you come to realise that this is an extension of exactly how the author feels. Pitching back and forth between his thrilling adventures and the mundanity of homelife, he is unable to reconcile the two, contributing to the breakup of more than one marriage. It might not make for the most comfortable read, but it places you right inside the author’s mind.
Since this is an ebook review, it’s worth mentioning that the Kindle edition suffers slightly from the need for a thorough edit to correct the occasionally eccentric spelling in English and mistranslations in Spanish. This is, unfortunately, a fairly widespread problem for ebooks, as even the largest publishing houses have been slow to accept that the editing process must be just as rigorous for ebooks as for their paper equivalents. However, in this case the errors are largely superficial and aren’t an indication of any deeper quality issues with the writing, so I wouldn’t let it put you off.
If you’ve already visited Patagonia, Worrall’s emotive snapshots of the landscape and wildlife as he weaves along the coast and across the border of Argentinian and Chilean Patagonia will carry a deeper resonance, whilst his forays into the wider history and culture of the region are informative without detracting from thread of the story. And if you’re still trying to decide if Patagonia is the destination for you, you might find that this book makes up your mind.
Read The River of Desire if…
- You enjoy National Geographic Magazine.
- You like a good dose of personal intrigue to keep you reading.
- You want to experience the emotional impact of Patagonia.
Have you read The River of Desire by Simon Worrall? What did you think? Do you have a suggestion of an ebook for Cascada to review? Share your thoughts below!
Next time, Cascada reviews The Tourist Trail by John Yunker. Look out for the next blog in this series, coming soon!