The Third Bank of the River offers an ambitious narrative that goes back and forth in time and alternates between urban and jungle settings. The book could have risked becoming unwieldy, but Arnold has crafted a thrilling page-turner while delving into topics that often bypass Brazil’s mainstream media ... Arnold knows to avoid the trap of providing top-down solutions to teach Brazilians how to deal with their own predicament. Rather, The Third Bank of the River’ ultimately stands out as an important book for Americans looking to better understand the glorious and troubled nation to their south — in all its complexity.
The book, a collection of vignettes that at times feels disjointed, has two main themes. One is the mounting threats indigenous communities face as logging, agriculture and mining encroach ... The second is a searing look at the toll violence is taking on residents of the Amazon as drug-smuggling groups battle over key routes ... Arnold’s account of the threats to indigenous communities—informed by a comprehensive and accessible litany of the abuses they have endured since colonial times—is the highlight of the book ... His rendering of the violence afflicting the Amazon—a key battleground in a pandemic of violence that killed a record number of people in Brazil in 2016—is less captivating. Arnold’s use of imagined quotes to add dramatic flair to a couple of scenes in the book is unsettling, raising questions about the reliability of the rest of the reporting ... toward the end, when Arnold describes an encounter with his birth family that almost didn’t happen ... the scene, which is short and devoid of details, feels like a missed opportunity, leaving the reader wondering what was said during an almost certainly crucial moment in Arnold’s quest to make sense of Brazil.
Arnold pulls few punches in this sobering account of the unfolding genocidal threat, adding another dark layer to the urgent story environmentalists are already telling about how the logging of rain forests is playing a drastically destructive role in climate change.