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4.3 out of 5 stars33
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 3 March 2011
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
VINE VOICEon 12 March 2011
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
on 11 March 2011
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 2 November 2011
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. In 1977 he moved his church The People's Temple to Guyana and a year later the world learned with absolute horror of the mass suicide and/or murder of his 900 followers. This was an American tragedy but it took place in the jungle of Guyana and therefore became associated forever with that country.
This is not a book written in a dry scholarly manner but a history to enjoy, not least because of the writer's many humorous asides.

Lionel Ross-Author & Publisher
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 September 2011
I'm a British descendant of Afro Guyanese parents. just returned from Guyana dealing with deceased families land sale, reading Wild Coast couldn't arrive at a better time.

In John Gimlettes fascinating travelogue, I found Gimlette painted a bold picture of the diversity and chequered history of this unknown , unexplored and forgotten region of South America which has allways been overhadowed by the more popular larger Latin regions. Gimlette begins his journey in the area I'm familiar with an area of my past ancestory Guyana , formerly British Guiana. He then travels over the border to Dutch Surinam and his journey concludes in French Guyana , Gimlettes review of his visit from his arrival in the city of weatherbeaten, grand historical wooden Dutch buildings Georgetown , is as fascinating as his trip in to the unchartered interior, rainforests/ jungles of amazing wildlife. The Guyanas history, politics are laced with unforgiveable opression in slavery predominantly from a Dutch domination. John Gimlette opens the door on a unique unknown area of little interest to most of the world an area rich in natural resources, made up predominantly by unexplored rainforest with powerful links to Europe and a diversity of races from India, China, Africa and Europe. Wild Coast is a historical and political trip to this off the beaten track region and a compulsive travel journal as rich as others I have read about Guyana Evelyn Waughs 92 Days and Gerald Durells Three Singles to Adventure.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 3 July 2011
'Wild Coast is a really good read. It's obviously well researched and written in a very approachable style that quickly immerses you in the people, history, locations and idiosyncrasies of the three different Guianas. There are sections of almost novel-like dialogue that bring to life the diverse characters that the author meets on his journey.

The legacy of slavery - and the brutality that accompanied it - is central to the book. In the words and illustrations you glimpse the secretive, and perhaps dangerous world of Maroon tribes such as the Saramaccaners, N'Djukas and Wapisianas and their leaders with names like Captain Zam-Zam.

The visit to the site of the Jonestown massacre - where over 900 died at Rev Jim Jones' 'promised land' - is sensitively described and includes contributions from locals who lived through the experience. The story makes harrowing but fascinating reading.

There is also a good section on Guyane - the French department - and the French values that have been imported to this otherwise very un-French part of South America. Charriere's 'Papillon' prison and the Iles du Salut (before they became the location for Europe to launch satellites) are juxtaposed with the other parts of Guiana.

With 'jellified crocodiles', prisons that look like 'vast extra-terrestrial biscuit tins' and 'lilies so purple they look like the work of an imperial hatter' it's a recommended read - all that's missing is detail of how the author got the seven foot hunting bow and arrows through customs when he finally got home!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 11 November 2011
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
on 26 September 2011
I have travelled extensively in South America, however, these 3 countires on the 'wild coast' have so far escaped my attention. I now have had an apetiser in print and I am now yearning to tramp the ground in this special north east corner of South America. John Gimlette has done this very well and by combining history with his intrepid multiple journeys, he has produced a rich and very readable book. If however a prospective reader is after a tour and/or guide book telling you in detail what is on offer today in these three countries, this is not the book. Instead, JG has successfully encompassed extensive history and a smattering of modern life, in order to fill in any Latin America gaps for us, in this almost secretive part of the mighty and interesting continent. A refreshing multiple theme overview. A job well done.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 16 March 2011
"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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on 10 August 2012
`Wild Coast' is a remarkable tour de force. The writing is evocative, and the author shows a real empathy with the many and sometimes strange people that he meets along his way.

Gimlette brings out the character of the people and landscape of the Guianas deftly. But I think his most remarkable achievement is the way he brings the past so vividly to light, and traces the connections between events of long ago and the complexities and tensions of the present day. The author's research is painstaking, and from start to finish his writing carries the ring of truth. I must add that he was pretty brave in going to some of the places that he did.

The biggest eye-opener, to me, was the evocation of the Dutch colony in slavery days. They seem to have descended to a level of depravity even lower than that prevailing in other European colonies of the day. (It is curious what horrors become embedded in the collective memory, and what others are virtually forgotten today).

I was also fascinated by Gimlette's evocation of the complex history of the maroons, the descendants of African slaves who took refuge in the forested interior and set up their own states-within-a-state. He brings the story of Suriname up-to-date with the post-independence `Hinterland War', and the stranger-than-fiction tale of the former (and recently re-elected) President Bouterse.

My wife - who is Guyanese - is finding this a most interesting and exciting read.
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