Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Book review: "Mother of God" by Paul Rosolie

Paul Rosolie loves the Amazon jungle. And he wants you to love it, too.

In his entertaining but inconsistent "Mother of God," Rosolie takes readers into the jungle and shares his personal encounters with jaguars, huge snakes, isolated tribes, and many other wonders of the Amazon.

Rosolie was raised in Brooklyn, but explains that he found his calling when he went to Peru after high school to work at a wildlife station as a researcher and guide. It changed his life, he says.

Great moments followed. He rescues and raises an orphaned giant anteater baby. He wrestles, and is nearly crushed by, a 20-foot anaconda. He discovers a hidden "floating forest." He goes up within feet of a wounded jaguar and stares into the "savage intensity" of the animal's eyes.

By his own account, Rosolie has a tendency to rush headlong into situations and then find himself in trouble. That's how he ended up lost in the jungle, with no shelter and no supplies, caught in a raging storm and fighting to stay alive. It's his own fault, but makes for page-turning reading, regardless.

Rosolie tells these stories to get our attention; he has deeper point. He is passionate about the need to preserve the wild spaces and the wildlife of the Amazon, and he warns readers that the jungle is under assault from encroaching human development.

His point is valid, but he sometimes tries too hard, and starts lecturing.

"What is about our species that allows us to watch sit-coms and argue over sports while cultures and creatures and those things meek and green and good are chopped, shot, and burned from the world for a buck?" he laments in one good rant.

Rosolie is a good writer, but not a great one, and some parts of the book can be skimmed, like his occasional tangents into semi-scientific lessons. His adventure stories are better.

The book also has occasional lapses in basic narrative. In one confusing scene while Rosolie is visiting India, he describes a mob descending on the ashram where he is staying. He helps lock a gate to keep out the mob. But in the next moment he's outside the locked gate face-to-face with the mob. How did he get out there? It's not clear.

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