The longtime Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society recounts a journey down Colombia's storied Magdalena River, illuminating the country's history and rebirth after decades of political violence, drug cartels, and guerrilla warfare.
Davis is a powerful, penetrating and immensely knowledgeable writer ... Madgalena...is very personal. Its three sections...promise a smooth linear ride downriver, but the text is full of mysterious eddies and crosscurrents ... 'living narratives' are the heart of a book whose final purpose is to 'celebrate the true wonder of a country that has long been overlooked and misunderstood.' Passages of description catch the evanescent flavour of towns along the way ... Magdalena is steeped in a physical sense of Colombia: the landscapes, the disreputable backstreets, the irrepressibly resilient people. This eclectic log-book of life on the river puts one in mind of Ryszard Kapuściński’s idea of travel writing as 'authenticated by its being lived'—'you have experienced this event on your own skin, and it is this experience, this feeling along the surface of your skin, which gives your story its coherence.'
... it would be a gross understatement to call this book a river journey. It is far more than that. 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 is a tireless raconteur ... He writes in a style and from a perspective that is both haunting and self-deprecating. A word of warning: Davis does not spare his readers from the abject truth. There are stories about pogroms of native populations, slaughter of innocent townspeople, horrific environmental devastation, catastrophic natural disasters, and more. The history both near and far of Colombia is often heart-wrenching and violent ... There are still many wonders to behold ... a vivid portrait of his hopes and fears for the region.
The author vividly recounts the various civil wars and regional conflicts Colombia has suffered since its independence from Spain in 1810 ... Gabriel García Márquez did not believe, at the time of his death in 2014, that the Magdalena would ever be restored. Mr. Davis’s book makes a compelling case otherwise. If a country’s spirit can be renewed through the grace and resilience of its people, he argues, so too can its river.