Book Review: Suriname

Suriname (Enchantment Of The World), by Carolyn S. Lieberg

When I plan to visit a country, especially a country I do not happen to know well, I do my best to read up on that country as much as possible.  In casting a wide net, I read not only travel books but histories and even books aimed at children or novels [1].  While such a book as this one is aimed at young people, it is of value to adults as well, not least because the writing is so direct.  What might be thought to be too harsh to say to a voter, for example, who was concerned about foreign aid being wasted, is something that one tends to say to younger people in order to educate them about a place that they are not likely to know anything about.  This book is certainly not a new one, and therefore is not up-to-date, but is clearly the sort of volume that reads very well as an introduction to a country with a troubled history and with some hopes and aspirations that clash with that history as well as with its government.  If this book is not deep or exhaustive, it certainly illuminates some lines of research and inquiry for the future.

The contents of this book consist of seven chapters and closing facts at a glance and an index that altogether are a bit more than 100 pages.  The first chapter looks at Suriname’s geography on the north coast of South America with a forest region that is an extension of the Amazon shield to the south.  After that the author examines the discovery and settlement of the area from the first colonial struggles between the Netherlands and England to the end of slavery in 1866.  After this the author turns to the tortured path to independence and more contemporary history, including a fair amount of political instability linked to an overly powerful military strongman with a disinclination to give up power and influence.  After this the author looks at culture and society, examining the rich culture and complicated ethnic origins of the contemporary Surinamese.  After a chapter on life in Suriname the author closes her book with a discussion of Suriname’s place in the world, including its reliance on one or a few primary goods (sugar, bauxite, gold, teak) that are subject to immense price swings leaving the country highly vulnerable economically.  The chapters are filled with photos and generally speaking the author is realistic as well as empathetic towards the situation in Suriname.

The best thing that can be said about this book is that it does not whitewash either the past or present rulers of Suriname for many of the issues that the country faces.  The author honestly discusses the complicated ethnic origins of the Surinamese based on the desire to find cheap farm labor both during and after the time of slavery, which led to the importing of massive amounts of slaves (which died at an alarming rate), the escape of enough slaves into free communities that about 10% of the country is made up of their isolated descendants, the importation of labor from India and Indonesia, and the flight of about a third of the country’s population (including most Europeans) to the Netherlands in fear that Suriname would not be a viable independent nation.  Likewise, the author also comments on the political instability of independent Suriname and the way that politics has often been organized by ethnic group and that significant issues have hindered Suriname’s growth and equitable development.  If this book is not the last word on Suriname as a nation, it certainly is very good in giving a thoughtful reader a good place to start.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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