Magdalena: River Of Dreams: A Story Of Colombia, by Wade Davis
In this book, the author states that he had originally intended on writing a short essay and ended up writing about 350 pages about Colombia. This book would have been more enjoyable had it stayed short, unfortunately. There is certainly a market for this book, and certainly people who will find it appealing, but this book is not a dream, but rather a nightmare. What makes it a nightmare includes the author’s love of heathen religion and hostility to Christianity, his total lack of insight when it comes to the consequences of his extreme leftist politics, and the fact that he feels it necessary to repeat the same points over and over again about Colombia’s violent past. What is unclear is why the author felt it necessary to contradict himself so often when he dwelled upon the evil past while simultaneously praising the ability of people to move on and overcome the past when they clearly were not either forgetting or overcoming the past. Were the author’s personal views and opinions not so strident and offensive, it would be possible to praise the author for desiring to see Colombia’s core river valley of the Magdalena represent dreams and hopes for a better future, but this book offers nothing but land theft and environmentalism and bogus heathen spirituality as ways to reach a better future and that is not even close to the right way.
This book is a large one, of about 350 pages (more if one includes the bibliographical essay) and is divided into three parts, with various unnumbered chapters from there where the author manages to bloviate about many aspects of Colombian history and prehistory. The book’s three parts are based on geography, starting with the upper Magdalena, going from its source to an area where the Rio Bogota joins it. This is followed by chapters on the Middle Magdalena, and after that by chapters on the Lower Magdalena, where the river stops dropping and makes its slow way to the sea. The author manages to discuss a wide variety of topics, from the ins and outs of the conflicts between the Spaniards and various tribes of the region, the industrial waste that enters into the river from Bogota, the political violence of the 19th and 20th centuries, the rise of the drug trade, the author’s fondness for coca, the author’s discussion of Mary Magdalene, the namesake of the river, and more.
In reading this book, it is easy to see how it could have been a lot better. The author could have thought about what he was trying to convey to the reader and not inserted himself and his editorializing so much in the material. Yet when it comes to reading and reviewing books, we do not get to read and review books that would be good if the author had not been more interested in what he thought and believed and in conveying so many accounts of deaths and disappearances and selective interpretations of atrocities, but alas, that is what we have. The author does not presume to write a scholarly history of Colombia, but he writes with all of the balance of the contemporary academy and journos, and the result is a book that really speaks only to those who have the same mindset as the author, and that makes for an unpleasant read. Plenty of these people could write memoirs of crappy lives about Colombia’s insane levels of internal violence, but the author’s account diminishes them because it views them through his own unappealing perspective. The result is a book that is nowhere near as powerful or persuasive as the author thinks it is.