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Reviews of Magdalena by Wade Davis

Magdalena by Wade Davis

Magdalena

River of Dreams: A Story of Colombia

by Wade Davis
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  • First Published:
  • Sep 14, 2020
  • Paperback:
  • Jun 2021
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About This Book

Book Summary

A captivating new book from Wade Davis--award-winning, best-selling author and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence for more than a decade--that brings vividly to life the story of the great Río Magdalena, illuminating Colombia's complex past, present, and future.

Travelers often become enchanted with the first country that captures their hearts and gives them license to be free. For Wade Davis, it was Colombia. Now in a masterly new book, Davis tells of his travels on the mighty Magdalena, the river that made possible the nation. Along the way, he finds a people who have overcome years of conflict precisely because of their character, informed by an enduring spirit of place, and a deep love of a land that is home to the greatest ecological and geographical diversity on the planet. Only in Colombia can a traveler wash ashore in a coastal desert, follow waterways through wetlands as wide as the sky, ascend narrow tracks through dense tropical forests, and reach verdant Andean valleys rising to soaring ice-clad summits. This rugged and impossible geography finds its perfect coefficient in the topography of the Colombian spirit: restive, potent, at times placid and calm, in moments explosive and wild.

Both a corridor of commerce and a fountain of culture, the wellspring of Colombian music, literature, poetry, and prayer, the Magdalena has served in dark times as the graveyard of the nation. And yet, always, it returns as a river of life.

At once an absorbing adventure and an inspiring tale of hope and redemption, Magdalena gives us a rare, kaleidoscopic picture of a nation on the verge of a new period of peace. Braiding together memoir, history, and journalism, Wade Davis tells the story of the country's most magnificent river, and in doing so, tells the epic story of Colombia.

Excerpt
Magdalena

Colombia is said to be the land of a thousand rhythms. Ethnomusicologists have in fact identified 1025.

Cumbia is a rhythm, a beat, a dance—a choreography of seduction that ignites the spirit and shakes the soul, infusing one's entire physical being with a sensual promise as innocent and perfect as a prayer. The dance movements of the male recall the desires of the lone cimarrón: passionate, powerful, yearning. Those of the woman, the coy resistance of the native maiden, bright candles in hand, spinning in a whirlwind of indifference. The music builds through the night, an alchemy of spirit and sensation that with every performance enhances its authority and power, laying claim to its rightful place as the progenitor of all musical forms in a nation nursed on rhythm, inspired from birth by song.

A scholar who truly understands the essence and roots of Cumbia is Carlos Vives, Colombia's beloved musical icon, an international star who arguably has done ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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Davis's narrative has a rich rhythm that mirrors the country's energy and flows much like the river itself: brimming with twists and turns that linger on various towns along the way and the many people with stories to share about their Colombia. And what stories! Written like a lovestruck prayer, Magdalena: River of Dreams brings readers deep into the heart of Colombia for an unforgettable journey through its ecology, culture and often beguiling mystery. Far more than a travelogue, it is a moving evocation of the interconnected skeins that people weave with the natural world around them...continued

Full Review (623 words)

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(Reviewed by Peggy Kurkowski).

Media Reviews

Christian Science Monitor
Magdalena is a devotee’s pilgrimage... Like the very nature of the journey itself, the narrative swings back and forth and side to side, allowing the serendipity of the moment to fill in the adventure with compelling human interest stories and representative anecdotes, and of course histories... Davis’ desire to revitalize the river of his dreams is rendered poignantly in Magdalena – a vivid portrait of his hopes and fears for the region.

The Guardian
Davis is a powerful, penetrating and immensely knowledgeable writer...Magdalena is a geography book about a river that is also a political history of Colombia, an admonition of ecological disaster, an impassioned defence of indigenous wisdom, and a memoir of the author’s various travels and friendships over the years... Evanescent...Magdalena is steeped in a physical sense of Colombia: the landscapes, the disreputable backstreets, the irrepressibly resilient people.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Davis is a natural, engaging storyteller, and while he makes his way through Colombia's history...the book is also an affecting account of on-the-ground exploration...An elegant narrative masterfully combining fine reporting and a moving personal journey.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Davis stocks his lively narrative with piquant characters, dramatic historical set pieces, and lyrical nature writing ('The mouth of the Rio Magdalena is the color of the earth'). The result is a rich, fascinating study of how nature and a people shape each other.

Booklist
[A] deeply inquisitive, dazzlingly fluent scientific, cultural, and spiritual investigation...This far-reaching, centuries-encompassing river biography is shaped by Davis' love for Colombia...Always with a discerning eye to the symbolic and metaphorical, Davis tells the river’s saga of fecundity and horror through the lives of remarkable individuals past and present...Throughout Davis emphasizes Colombia's many Indigenous peoples and their abiding belief that protecting the river is a sacred duty. The story of Magdalena...is that of an epic struggle between the sacred and the profane, between worship and preservation and reckless exploitation and wanton abuse.

Author Blurb Hector Abad, author of Oblivion
After all our agonies, Wade Davis, through the evocative power of his writing, and the clarity of his understanding, gives us all reason to once again love Colombia. That is the wonder of his book, which in many ways reads as a love letter to a nation.

Author Blurb Juan Gabriel Vásquez, author of The Sound of Things Falling
Few people can interpret Colombia, this most complicated of countries, as Wade Davis does; fewer people still can write about it with such empathy, knowledge and grace. Magdalena is the ultimate proof that Colombia's present and past are inextricably linked to the larger fate of the American continent. To say that the book deserves to be read is perhaps inaccurate; I'd rather say that anyone who wishes to understand this mysterious corner of the world deserves Magdalena. It is a capacious, generous and illuminating book.

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Beyond the Book



Colombia's Biodiversity

Magdalena River at sunset with tree-lined banks and mountains in the distanceColombia is a nation with a supremely rich diversity of natural wonders. Its geography alone encompasses a dizzying array of ecosystems, such as coastal deserts, wetlands, dense tropical forests, verdant valleys and snowy mountain tops. But perhaps most impressive is the biological and botanical abundance of this South American country. According to the World Wildlife Fund, Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world, closely following Brazil. Furthermore, they note that "per square kilometer, it is the most biodiverse country, with more bird, amphibian, butterfly, and frog species … than anywhere else in the world."

The source of Colombia's stunning diversity of animals and fauna is its unique location in South ...

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