Sponsored Collection

Atlantic Books for the Holidays

9780735278929_cover

Magdalena

River of Dreams

by Wade Davis

0 ratings
rated!
rated!
0 of 5
comments: 0
reviews: 0
list price: $39.95
edition:Hardcover
category: History
published: 2020
ISBN:9780735278929
publisher: Knopf Canada
View Excerpt
Description

A captivating new book from Wade Davis--award-winning, bestselling 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 masterful new book, the bestselling author 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.

close this panel
Excerpt

In a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, a European woman asks a pro­fessor from Bogotá what it means to be Colombian. The man hesi­tates before replying, “I don’t know. It is an act of faith.” Colombia is like that. Nothing is as expected. Magical realism, celebrated as Colombia’s gift to Latin American literature, is within the country simply journalism. Gabriel García Márquez wrote of what he saw. He was an observer, a practicing journalist for most of his life, who just happened to live in a land where heaven and earth converge on a regular basis to reveal glimpses of the divine.
 
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 in a week Andean valleys as gently verdant as the softest temperate landscapes of the Old World. No place in Colombia is more than a day removed from every natural habitat to be found on earth. Cities as cultured as any in the Americas were for most of their history linked one to another by trails traveled only by mules. Over time, the wild and impos­sible geography found its perfect coefficient in the topography of the Colombian spirit: restive, potent, at times placid and calm, in moments tortured and twisted, like a mountain that shakes, crum­bles, and slips to the sea. Magic becomes the antidote to fear and uncertainty. Reality comes into focus through the reassuring lens of the phantasmagoric. A god that has given so much to a nation, as Colombians never fail to acknowledge, always gets his piece on the back end.
 
Certainly there was some kind of magic at work in the genesis of this new book, which celebrates the Río Magdalena, Colombia’s river of life. In 2014, I was invited to Bogotá by Héctor Rincón and Ana Cano, both acclaimed journalists from Medellín, to help pro-mote the Amazon volume of their series Savia Botánica. With the backing of Grupo Argos, one of Colombia’s most prominent corporate citizens, they had assembled teams of botanists, photographers, and journalists to survey the five major regions of Colombia with the goal of producing an elegant illustrated book on each—the Llanos, Amazonas, Chocó, the Caribbean coast, and the Andean Cordilleras. These Savia Botánica volumes were not to be sold, but gifted as complete sets to every library in the country, all with the goal of sending a message to a new generation of young Colombians that theirs was not a land of violence and drugs, but rather a place of unparalleled natural wealth and beauty, home to, among many wonders, more species of birds than any other country in the world.
 
One day, as we wrapped up a discussion of the latest Savia Botánica volume, I casually mentioned that, having focused on the Colombian landscape, perhaps it was time to pay attention to the rivers. I proposed, half in jest, that we do a book on the Río Magdalena, the Mississippi of Colombia, the vital artery of commerce and culture that runs a thousand miles south to north, traversing the entire length of the nation. To my surprise and delight, my new friends embraced the idea without hesitation, as indeed did Grupo Argos, which immediately offered its unconditional support for the project. That whimsical remark turned out to be a defining moment, for the research and writing of this book would in the end consume nearly five years.
 
Colombians think of the Magdalena as having three sections—Alto, Medio, and Bajo—divisions with overlapping and even shifting boundaries that nevertheless reflect geographical, historical, and cultural distinctions far more profound than the simple terms high, middle, and low would imply. Thanks to the generosity of Grupo Argos, I was able to explore the Magdalena in all its dimensions, from source to mouth, in all months of the year, with every shift of the seasons, from the uplands of the Macizo Colombiano to the sand and stones of the Caribbean shore. Altogether, I made five extended forays to the river: two with the Savia team, led by Héctor Rincón and Ana Cano, surveys that covered the entire drainage, and two subsequent explorations that concentrated on the Medio Magda­lena and the musical traditions of the lower river and the Caribbean coastal plain. The fifth brought me back to the Arhuaco mamos, old friends from my time in the Sierra Nevada, as we returned to Bocas de Ceniza to make ritual payments at the mouth of the river, even as the streets of Barranquilla erupted all around us with the magic and joy of Carnaval.
 
The Río Magdalena is not just the country’s main artery; it’s the reason Colombia exists as a nation. It is the lifeline that allowed Colombians to settle a mountainous land that geographically may well be the most challenging place on the planet. Within the Mag­dalena drainage live four of every five Colombians. It is the source of 80 percent of the nation’s economic wealth, the engine that drives the economy, the river that powers the lights of the great cities. Like the Mississippi, its shadow to the north, the Magdalena is both a corridor of commerce and a fountain of culture, the wellspring of Colombian music, literature, poetry, and prayer. In dark times, it has served as the graveyard of the nation, a slurry of the shapeless dead. And yet always, it returns as a river of life. Through all the years of the worst of the violence, the Magdalena never abandoned the people. It always flowed. Perhaps, as this book suggests, it may finally be time to give back to the river, allowing the Magdalena to be cleansed of all that has soiled its waters. Colombia as a nation is the gift of the river. The Magdalena is the story of Colombia.

close this panel
Contributor notes

WADE DAVIS is the author of twenty books, including One River, The Wayfinders, and Into the Silence, which won the 2012 Samuel Johnson prize, the top award for literary nonfiction in the English language. Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society from 1999 to 2013, he is currently Professor of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. In 2016, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada. In 2018 he became an Honorary Citizen of Colombia.

close this panel
Editorial Review

A Globe and Mail "Best Book" of 2020
An Economist Best Book of the Year, Culture and Ideas

“In this outstanding travelogue Wade Davis traces Colombia’s mighty Magdalena River from source to mouth, encountering stunning vistas and a host of extraordinary people. . . . [Davis] tells epic tales of passion, violence and ambition with tremendous narrative verve." —Sunday Times

"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." —Juan Gabriel Vásquez, bestselling author of The Sound of Things Falling

“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 this book, which in many ways reads as a love letter to a nation.” —Héctor Abad, author of Oblivion
 
“The author and his subject make an ideal match. . . . Magdalena is a revelatory and often enchanting book, enhanced by fine photographs and good maps.” —The Economist

“His passion for Colombia is . . . expressed in the depth of information he delivers—and the poetic way in which he captures its extraordinary landscape. Those pondering a trip will be inspired to veer off the tourist path.” —The Times

“[Magdalena] is the culmination of a lifetime’s work in the country and is suffused with a love and knowledge that only such long acquaintance can bring.” —The Spectator
“Davis suffuses his reportage with a visionary tinge. But his subject more than warrants it. He tells of an indigenous savant who advises lovers of the Magdalena to “know its moods?.?.?.?recognise its power, yield to its strength, and be thankful for its bounty.” His torrential book achieves all that.” —Financial Times 
“[An] ardent travelogue. . . . Davis stocks his lively narrative with piquant characters, dramatic historical set pieces, and lyrical nature writing. . . . The result is a rich, fascinating study of how nature and a people shape each other." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Davis is a powerful, penetrating and immensely knowledgeable writer.” —The Guardian
“[A] delightful journey. . . . 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.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“[A] deeply inquisitive, dazzlingly fluent scientific, cultural, and spiritual investigation . . . 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. . . . The story of Magdalena, as for every river, is that of an epic struggle between the sacred and the profane, between worship and preservation and reckless exploitation and wanton abuse.” —Booklist (starred review)
 

close this panel

Buy this book at:


About the Author

Wade Davis

Wade Davis is a Canadian anthropologist, author, and explorer who David Susuki called "A rare combination of scientist, scholar, poet and passionate defender of all of life's diversity." Wade Davis has written a new forward for What the Buddha Never Taught, the 20th Anniversary Edition of the bestselling classic. Dr. Davis lives in Washington, D.C.

Author profile page >

Other titles by Wade Davis

more >

User Activity

more >
X
Contacting facebook
Please wait...