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Wild Coast: Travels on South America's Untamed Edge Paperback – 27 Jan 2011

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (27 Jan 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846682525
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846682520
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 2.8 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 452,473 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Gimlette was born in 1963. At seventeen, he crossed the Soviet Union by train and has since travelled to over 60 countries. In 1982, on the eve of the Falklands War, he was working on an estancia in Northern Argentina, branding cattle and planting grass. As hostilities got under way, he crossed the border into Paraguay, the beginning of a fascination that's lasted many years. He returned to England via Bolivia and Chile to read law at Cambridge.

In 1997, John won the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize competition. The following year he won the Wanderlust Travel Writing competition. His first book was 'At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig; Travels in Paraguay', which was published in New York, London and Milan. His second book, 'Theatre of Fish', about his travels in Newfoundland and Labrador, was published in 2005. In it, John sets off after his great-grandfather, Dr Eliot Curwen, up the Labradorian coast. Curwen, who arrived here in 1893, was sent as a medical missionary, to look after Labrador's migratory fishermen and Eskimos. Using Curwen's remarkable photographs and journals, John finds himself back among the people who were his ancestor's patients.

Both The Pig and The Fish were nominated by The New York Times amongst its 'Books of the Year'. Both also formed the subject-matter of lectures that John gave to the Royal Geographical Society, in London and in the provinces. In addition, he's also appeared at both the Hay and Edinburgh literary festivals, together with several others.

In 'Panther Soup' (published in Spring 2008), John travels with an American war veteran, back along the campaign trail of 1944-45: Marseille, Alsace, Lorraine, Swabia, Bavaria and the Austrian Tyrol. For the American, it is the first time he has been back in 60 years, and along the way they meet the survivors of this conflict: resistance fighters, children, draft-dodgers, German veterans, Austrian aristocrats, a spy and a mothy Tyrolean militia.

John's latest book is 'Wild Coast: Travels on South America's Untamed Edge'. It was featured on the BBC Radio 4's 'Excess Baggage', and again John will be talking about the book at the literary festivals at, among others, Hay, Edinburgh, and Oxford.

Writing is very much in John's blood. On his mother's side, both Eliot Curwen and Dr Cecil Curwen (John's grandfather) were great amateur archaeologists - the last of their kind - and their written work was widely admired. On the other side, the Gimlettes were military surgeons, deployed around Asia. George Gimlette's history of the Nepali royal family, published in the 1890's, is still printed in India today. John D Gimlette's 'Malay Poisons and Charm Cures' (1915) is also still in print, in Singapore, the unsurpassed textbook for all poisoners.

John is also a regular contributor of travel features to the national press, in particular the Telegraph, Times and Guardian, and to specialist travel titles, including the Condé Nast Traveller and Wanderlust. His travel photographs have appeared in the Traveller, Telegraph, Independent, Wanderlust and Geographical.

John lives in London, England, where he continues to practice as a barrister.

Product Description


Praise for Panther Soup:

'An important book, reminding us of the links between old and new world, ideals and ideologies, war and peace in our phoenix-like continent. It is at once raw and erudite, deeply moving and strangely leisurely. It is also rich in black humour and insight.


A moving, often humorous, and thoroughly enjoyable account that works as both a wartime recollection and travelogue ... Gimlette strikes just the right notes in juxtaposing the past and the present. He has provided a fine chronicle with broad appeal to general readers. (Booklist)

A completely fascinating book. It opens up a forgotten corner of the world with tremendous flair and shrewd observation. (William Boyd)

Wild Coast is funny, intelligent, revelatory (Joseph O'Neill, author of Netherland)

Great for those interested in Guyanese history, or those looking to explore a South America far from the well-trodden Gringo trail. (Ianthe Butt Real Travel 2011-01-01)

Gimlette has an eye for a juicy story, a willingness to embark on harebrained journeys and a gleeful way with similes, all of which makes this an entertaining introduction to a forgotten corner of the globe. (Siobhan Murphy Metro 2011-02-02)

A fascinating journey... Gimlette's extensive research has given him access to an intoxicating level of detail. (Tom Hawker Wanderlust 2011-03-01)

Gimlette is an old-school traveller, very British, very cheery.

A barrister by trade, the author has an uncanny ability to nail down his characters with a few well-chosen words... Gimlette brings history to life. He artfully merges assiduous research with a storyteller's gift.

(Oliver Balch Guardian 2011-03-12)

John Gimlette is sure to secure a name for himself as both a talented writer and a rare traveller who, as documented in the dark chronicles of his book, has visited South America's wild coast and returned apparently unscathed. Fortunately, his writing sculpts an interesting narrative too, and he conveys the region's horror stories with a healthy dose of humour, knowledge, sincerity and poetry...

As with all good travel books, the pace of Gimlette's investigations and the idiosyncratic nature of his discoveries, no matter how small, are infectious enough to ensure his account holds its own against these literary greats.

(Traveller 2011-03-01)

Remarkable... Gimlette is, refreshingly, an unfailing enthusiast... Wild Coast is driven by extraordinary dedication, an insatiable curiosity in everything and an enormous empathy for other people. Gimlette's descriptions of landscapes are often hauntingly beautiful, his sense of humour is engagingly dead-pan... His book is characterised by a thoroughness of research that puts most travel writers to shame...

a lucid and lively account of a multi-cultural history...

A reminder... of the way in which travel literature can still fulfil its role of bringing to life some of the world's unjustly neglected corners.

(Michael Jacobs Spectator 2011-03-26)

A fine expression of the spirit of the place... the best kind of travel writing: tough-minded and humorous, but above all thoughtful. (Ian Thomson TLS 2011-05-13)

A fascinating tale of rebels and remote jungle, snakes and slavery. Perfect armchair adventure. (Tom Robbins FT 2011-07-02)

Gimlette manages the neat trick of making the globe feel supremely vast and mysterious once again... a superb traveler's tale in which yesterday has far more heft than the fleeting happenings of today. (Wayne Curtis Wall Street Journal 2011-07-01)

A spirited historical, political and personal travelogue guaranteed to arouse the adventurous reader's wanderlust' (Liesl Schillinger New York Times)

A madcap journey... Another wonderful travel book by a master of the art (Giles Foden CN Traveller 2012-02-01)

Book Description

In this compelling and elegant travel memoir, John Gimlette returns to Guyana, the Wild Coast in South America, to discover his ancestral colonial history - one of brutal, cruel and often uncomfortable truths

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Panther 2 on 3 Mar 2011
Format: Paperback
A fascinating journey through South America's Wild Coast. Seldom explored, this is a land of forests and rivers where nine tenths of the inhabitants live in a narrow strip along the coast. As he travels from Guyana (formerly British Guyana, through Suriname (formerly Dutch Guyana) to French Guyana, Gimlette introduces us to a rich cast of characters, past and present. We meet outlaws, Amerindian hunters, runaway slaves and Marxist dictators. We retrace the progress of a Georgian slave revolt, discover a French penal colony, and revisit Jonestown where in 1978 over 900 Americans committed suicide. Gimlette's writing is meticulously researched, fluent and rich in detail. Often Wild Coast reads more like a novel than a travel/history book. My favourite parts are where Gimlette allows himself to become part of the story he tells, often with hilarious results.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Miran Ali VINE VOICE on 12 Mar 2011
Format: Paperback
A gripping travelogue of a part of the world most people know very little about. The book starts with British Guyana, followed by Suriname and French Guiana. I would rank this right alongside Gimlette's debut, The Tomb of the Inflatable Pig, a similar book about Paraguay.

Thoroughly recommended.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Parker on 11 Mar 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a big fan of Gimlette's book on Paraguay, At The Tomb Of The Inflatable Pig: Travels through Paraguay, I came to Wild Coast expecting something hugely enjoyable, moving, eye-opening and memorable. And that's exactly what you get with Wild Coast.

Gimlette's route takes him through what must be a contender for the wildest and strangest region on earth - the Guianas. Most of it is dense jungle - what some might call a fabulously rich ecosystem, but I would just find terrifying. It has it all - anacondas, piranhas, spiders, jaguars that regularly eat people, and that's before you get started on the disgusting and aggressive insect life. For the less squeamish, there is plenty to shock in the people Gimlette meets and the story of the region he tells. Can any other one place claim to have inspired such craziness and extremity, from the Raleigh-inspired search for the mythical city of gold, through murderous slaves, planters and dictators to the Jonestown massacre, with France's notorious Devil's Island penal colony on the way.

Gimlette's grasp of the history is masterful, but it is also cleverly woven into the story of his modern-day journey and the people he meets, all of whom he seems to have charmed into giving away something interesting about themselves and their relationship to the place.

Sometimes travelling in the footsteps of Evelyn Waugh's 1930s trip (which inspired A Handful of Dust (Penguin Modern Classics), the book that means you can never read Dickens again), Gimlette seems almost always unperturbed by the tarantulas - `like a large hairy hand', and all the other beasts, as well as by some of the frankly terrifying people he meets. A brave journey, superbly told - the kind of book you don't want to end.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By C.C. Ribchester, Lancs on 16 Mar 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
"Wild Coast" what a cracking read, difficult to put down, almost caused a domestic." Are you listening to what I am saying, can you take your head out of that book for two minutes" best advice I can give read it on your own and be prepared to stay up all night.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By KK on 11 Nov 2011
Format: Paperback
Fans of Gimlette's trademark blend of dark subject-matter, upbeat adventure, witty commentary, and serious scholarship - rejoice. Wild Coast is packed with all the thrills of his travel writing.

The subject-matter is of course the destination - one of the world's most inaccessible and mysterious regions. And it is dark because, despite that delightful Gimlettian lightness of tone, the history of the Guyanas is full of abuse and extravagance, a veritable theatre of the absurd - set in impassable jungle. The chapter on 'Jonestown', the Jim Jones commune where over 900 people committed mass suicide in the 1970s, is truly a journey into the heart of darkness. And that is just the beginning. Gimlette, as ever, steers clear of sensationalism, even when dealing with extreme cruelty; instead, he shines a humanist light on human folly and illusion.

As with 'The Tomb of the Inflatable Pig', his book on Paraguay, Gimlette is masterful at weaving day-to-day adventures through a comically inhospitable landscape with forays into the past where the real damage is done. His characters - as ever - are so vivid, they're practically jumping off the page.

This is essential reading for all interested in South America, colonial history, and how our personal demons are played out against nature and each other.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mr. L. Ross on 2 Nov 2011
Format: Paperback
Travel books rarely make compelling reading. They are often long on gratuitous detail and short on direction to the real soul of the area that is their subject. History is often provided without warmth and the local population only introduced sparingly. THE WILD COAST by JOHN GIMLETTE is a complete exception to all of this. It is a compelling and enjoyable read and I would recommend it not only to those with an interest in the area collectively known as the Guianas, but equally to those who have never visited or are likely to visit this amazing corner of the world. The author`s descriptions, without over-embellishment, of the amazing variety of flora and fauna he encountered are enough to transport the reader into a strange alien hinterland.
Gimlette has the knack of bringing to life a vast array of personalities, both current and historical, major and minor, so that, no matter how strange and outlandish their way of life, they remain credible human beings. The research and scholarship that Gimlette undertook shines out of every page. In this respect I would draw the prospective reader's attention to just two of the occasions when Guiana became almost a obsession with the world's press.
In a section headed humorously, As the Age of Sugar Waned, the Rule of the Dentists Began..., he begins to discuss the rule of a married couple Cheddi and Janet Jagan. They were, of course, both dentists; he was of Indian stock and she was Jewish. They were both communists and the idea that people of their political persuasion should be ruling any country in South America, however unusual and backward, sent the western world at the time, into a flat spin.
The second occasion was far more tragic and involved an American cult leader who styled himself the Rev Jim Jones.
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