“The Riverbones is a fascinating journey through a landscape thick with tragedy, rot, mystery and searing beauty. Andrew Westoll moves with a poet’s eye and an adventurer’s hunger.”
-Charles Montgomery, author of Happy City and The Last Heathen
Suriname is the least traveled country in South America, a little-known land of myth, magic and ecological wonder just north of Brazil and the Upper Amazon Basin. Though many untouched corners of the world have been hailed as The Last Eden, Suriname has a legitimate claim to the title. Ninety percent of this mysterious nation is covered in thick neo-tropical jungle, and only 430,000 people live here, with a population density similar to that of Russian Siberia. Once traded to the Dutch by the English in return for modern-day Manhattan, the jungles of Suriname are widely considered the largest tract of pristine rainforest left on earth. Therefore, according to primatologist and writer Andrew Westoll, this silent country may represent our last chance to save what remains of the New World’s once-sprawling forests.
As a young scientist of 23, Westoll spent a year living deep inside these primordial jungles studying monkeys. Five years later, he returned as a young writer to satisfy a long-standing obsession, on a quest to uncover Suriname’s quintessential soul.
The Riverbones is a passionate, stunningly written travel-memoir and eco-narrative that describes the author’s five-month odyssey-of-return through the untouched rainforests of Suriname. Through wondrous photography and gripping adventures – such as his adoption by the Saramakan royal family, his perilous friendship with a bodyguard of the former military dictator, his compulsive search for the rare and beautiful blue frog called okopipi – the author maps the natural and human geography of this exotic, unknown land while hunting for closure to his strange obsession with it. By spinning a spellbinding story of survival, heartbreak, mystery and murder, the author illustrates how the modern struggles for human rights and ecological preservation can often vie, with tragic consequences, with the economic needs of a proud people.
“Suriname, an almost secret place: very few people know this is the cradle of many famous football players, and almost nobody knows that these sport stars are the historical heirs of the Maroon slaves who once defeated Dutch colonialism. Andrew Westoll went deep inside the jungle, looking for a sacred, tiny, shining, blue frog, and discovered that perhaps hell and heaven have the same address.”
“Among the questions our future hangs on is this: Can we begin to care about the world’s forgotten corners? Andrew Westoll finds an answer in the jungles of Suriname, which in his fevered words contains every threatened treasure, every blood-stained secret, and every possible last chance. Great writing is borne of obsession, and The Riverbones is the pure stuff–a headlong plunge into darkness in search of the light.”
-J.B. MacKinnon, author of Dead Man in Paradise and co-author of The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating
“Compelling. . . a freewheeling and vividly written essay on the mysteries and longings of what it is to be human in a world of cynicism and loss — and more significantly, what it is to be hopeful, to persevere, in the search for redemption and beauty. . . there is a tenderness and sadness to [Westoll’s] writing, an acceptance and a dismissal of fate, captured intrinsically in the delicacy and nuances of the writing.”
–The Globe and Mail
“Not only is The Riverbones a great travel read, it is a brave book that ends with a plea for social justice for the Surinamese Maroons and Saramaka, a quasi-homeland for minority people. A fascinating journey through a country little known and with but a shadow of a tourism industry, this is a book about a place you may well never visit except through the eyes of an author.”
–The Sun Times
McClelland & Stewart, Canada, October 2008
Old Street Publishing, UK, Spring 2009
University of Queensland Press, Australia-New Zealand, Spring 2009
Shortlisted for the 2009 Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction