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Richard Starks & Miriam Murcutt. Along the River That Flows Uphill: From the Orinoco to the Amazon.

Richard Starks & Miriam Murcutt. Along the River That Flows Uphill: From the Orinoco to the Amazon. London. Haus (Consortium, distr.). 2009. 246 pages. $19.95. ISBN 978-1906598-32-7

In reflecting upon the thousand-mile journey they took by boat to explore the Casiquiare River, which flows through present-day Colombia and Venezuela to unite the Orinoco and the Amazon river systems, Along the River That Flows Uphill authors Richard Starks and Miriam Murcutt must confront the inner narratives that have given them a passion for adventure and exploration but which have, at the same time, placed them in danger. As a result, the travel narrative that results is an absorbing review of well-known historical explorers whose journals came to define the risk, danger, and discovery involved in Europeans' encounter with unfamiliar lands in the Americas, Africa, and Asia, and a realization that they form within them a kind of mapping of otherness that became, perhaps unconsciously, the driving force behind the persistent need to push into the unknown.

Funded by Geographical, the magazine of the Royal Geographical Society in London, to travel the length of the Casiquiare that apparently defies the laws of nature and flows uphill, Starks and Murcutt noted other paradoxes. First and foremost was the fundamental hubris of the "adventure travel" seeker who has been programmed by a kind of false consciousness to blind oneself to physical and political risk. The true risks are not as romantic as they might appear in the historical travel narratives: the authors are held captive by the FARC, a Colombian narco-trafficking group that has turned to kidnapping in order to extort large sums of cash. The authors were fortunate to have a boat moored on the river and did not have to pay the $10,000 demanded of them. While they made their escape, however, Starks recalls all the others who were not so lucky and the thousands who are still held captive with little hope of escape.

The authors also meditate on how myth and a kind of narrative of desire interweave to blur reality and one's own perceptions. A case in point are the Yanomami, ostensibly one of the most violent and aggressive peoples on the planet, who have been extensively described by explorers. The authors do not find poison-tipped arrows. Instead, the Yanomami appear passive and in fairly poor health, plagued by parasites.

While the authors weave in accounts of historical expeditions, they also reflect on the desire to uncover hidden knowledge that drives many expeditions. What the uncomfortable truth may turn out to be is that many of the puzzles which the explorers seek to solve do not have a resolution, and as the mystery of how a river can flow uphill is solved by looking at the bifurcations of its channels, the sense of indeterminacy is heightened. Discourses of explanation expire in the gaze of a new reader who encounters them and imposes his or her own beliefs and narrative desires.

Susan Smith Nash

University of Oklahoma
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Title Annotation:International Science Fiction
Author:Nash, Susan Smith
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 1, 2010
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