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Wild Coast: Travels on South America's Untamed Edge Hardcover – Deckle Edge, June 21, 2011

36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“To the admirably (or alarmingly) fearless Gimlette, the Guianas remain a terrain of matchless allure . . . He has written a spirited historical, political and personal travelogue guaranteed to arouse the adventurous reader’s wanderlust . . . It offers a gorgeously vivid depiction of one of the last untamed places on the planet.”
New York Times Book Review
“An engaging odyssey . . . Gimlette shows the region to be endlessly fascinating, if often in a dark way, [and] summarizes sweeps of history with a quinine-dry wit . . . His books manage the neat trick of making the globe feel supremely vast and mysterious once again. He does this in part by writing a narrative that sounds as if it had been penned by an Edwardian explorer—you can almost envision his pith helmet—but also by crafting a superb travelers’ tale in which yesterday has far more ballast and heft than the fleeting happenings of today.”
Wall Street Journal

Wild Coast is the best kind of travel writing: tough-minded and humorous, but above all thoughtful.”
Times Literary Supplement (UK)

Wild Coast is funny, intelligent, revelatory.”
—Joseph O’Neill, author of Netherland

“Gimlette’s first South American travel book, At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig, captured with great wit and learning the quirkiness of Paraguay. He has now produced a no less remarkable portrait of the highly idiosyncratic countries known collectively as Guiana . . . 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 also characterised by a thoroughness of research that puts most travel writers to shame . . . In lesser hands, such richness of texture and abundance of learning might have led to indigestion on the reader’s part. But Gimlette manages to steer through all the material with a great lightness of touch, skillfully weaving the personal narrative into a lucid and lively account of a multi-cultural history . . . Particularly memorable are his incisive portraits of the many crazed, tragic, and eccentric figures associated with these lands . . . All in all, Wild Coast is a reminder not just of the magnificent and endless strangeness of South America, but also of the way in which travel literature can still fulfil its role of bringing to life some of the world’s unjustly neglected corners.”
The Spectator (UK)

“A completely fascinating book. It opens up a forgotten corner of the world with tremendous flair and shrewd observation.”
—William Boyd, author of Any Human Heart

“A wonderfully entertaining account of a journey through one of the world’s least-known places . . . Gimlette, an insatiably curious storyteller, revels in the strange mix of people and traditions . . . Amid vivid descriptions of torrential rivers and golden grasslands that are home to some of the planets’ largest ants, otters, and fish, the author recalls encounters with a stunning variety of intriguing characters . . . Colorful and immensely readable.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“A few pages into his excellent new book, Wild Coast, John Gimlette tries to convey the forbiddingly impenetrable nature of his subject, the Guianas of northeastern South America, a nettlesome tangle of swamp, lowlands, crisscrossing creeks and rivers so resistant to navigation or settlement that the landscape remains one of the wildest, most unknown territories on the globe . . . These are words to quicken the pulse of the armchair traveler, for whom no landscape resonates quite like the exotic, the hard to get to, the uncharted . . . Between cellphones, Google Earth, and jumbo jets, it seems there’s nowhere in the world left to explore, but [writers like] John Gimlette prove that travel books still have something to tell us.”
The Daily Beast
“The pages provide a rollicking, witty and informed account of what crawls out of the Guianas’ jungles into the author’s path. Armed with a rucksack and a keen sense of the absurd, Gimlette drives, flies and floats through Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana . . . The author has an uncanny ability to nail down his characters with a few well-chosen words . . . But the book’s real strength lies not in the living, but the dead . . . Gimlette brings history to life. He artfully merges assiduous research with a storyteller’s gift, presenting the reader with a catalogue of loveable rogues, inveterate explorers, eccentric naturalists, and idealistic romantics. These stories provide more than just a good yarn. They offer a door into the darker aspects of the Guianas’ past—and thereby a window on to much of the present.”
The Guardian (UK)
“Gimlette leads us where few Europeans venture, beating a path through the jungle to find the juiciest tidbits of Guiana’s myth and history . . . This is a meaty and unusual travelogue.”
Associated Press



About the Author

John Gimlette has won the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize and the Wanderlust Travel Writing Award, and he contributes regularly to The Times (London), The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent, and Condé Nast Traveller. When not traveling, he practices law in London.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (June 21, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307272532
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307272539
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.3 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #560,711 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Roberto on July 14, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I like this book. Some parts, I love 'em! Yet, it is not a perfect book, and I believe that he author enjoys picturing these lands in a darker way than they really are. I love they way the author describes the cities, the villages, and the land. I love how he creatively depicts all the characters he encounters along the way - a mixture of thieves, scums, workers, politicians that seem to blend all together in these three countries. I also loved the research done by the author before travelling to these countries, telling us a lot about the history and the "why" things are what they are today.

Yet, as an anthropologist I feel that sometimes he over-simplistically tries to judge what people do. And he has a negative outlook that makes these people look more like damned souls than normal people. He seems to deny these people the opportunity to be happy and to actually enjoy their lifestyle - perhaps all the people he met had problems?

Also, I can see his interest in describing everything negatively from the use of adjectives (dark, ghostly, haunted) that he often uses even for describing the pristine rain forest.

But, you know, everyone has his/her biases, and they certainly don't spoil the enjoyment out of what is a welcome addition to the (poor) collection of books on Guayana, Suriname, and French Guyana.

If you like travel literature, you will enjoy this book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Rich on December 27, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I presume that John Gimlette's books are intended for tourists and travelers. However, his writings have multiple facets--Wild Coast is no exception. The book is a tapestry of travel, history, drama, comedy, tragedy and even suspense.

I appreciate how Mr. Gimlette gets in the head of historic figures and squares-up their impact on a country--or better, the country on them. He examines outlanders and locals alike with a keen analytical eye.

Being a former military man, I was particularly drawn to the tale of Captain John Stedman, how the government sent him off on a mission to a distant land, and how profoundly the mission changed him. It is the tireless refrain of countless military people today--and Stedman's lessons echo loudly given present state of world affairs.

Yet amid some of the most socioeconomically challenged circumstances, I especially enjoy Mr. Gimlette's ability to find beauty in a place. In the Guianas, he seems to reconcile poverty and majesty. Mr. Gimlette knows how to engage his readers.

I sense a resonance when I read Mr. Gimlette's "aha". Further, his writing kindles the imagination such that the reader wants to visit these remote areas and experience them for him/herself. Mr. Gimlette is an exceptionally gifted writer, and I believe that readers will be delighted with "Wild Coast".
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Middeldorf on September 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover
After reading "At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig", on my way to a two-year stay in Paraguay, I have become addicted to John Gimlette's books, all as insightful, entertaining and informative like this, his latest work. His writing skills are faultless, his research is extensive, and the look he throws on the lands and people he describes is unfailingly unbiased and objective, seldom if ever judgemental, albeit endowed with a special kind of empathy towards the realities and individuals he comes in contact with. His choices of destinations to visit are highly adventurous, and I am always impressed with the amount of physical discomfort he is willing to endure to bring to his readers the most accurate and vivid image of the countries he surveys. In short, even if you are not planning a trip to Paraguay, Newfoundland or to the Guianas, you are sure to enjoy reading John Gimlette's books, and will, as I already am, look forward to the next one.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sausalitan on October 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I've traveled in the West Indies for decades, and have contributed to the region's newspapers of record. I've spent some time in all three Guianas, and am fluent in Dutch. I give this book an unqualified recommendation.

I always say that when traveling in difficult parts of the world stamina is as important as inspiration, and the author fulfills that observation. He has an eye for the absurd, yet never patronizes his subjects (or the reader).

His bibliography is extensive and includes most of the key works on the region. Perhaps the book might have benefited from more focus on the three countries' creative writers. After all, Léon Damas, Albert Helman, and Martin Carter, to name but three, were products of the Guianas, which is quite remarkable given the countries' remoteness.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Michael Nicholls on November 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover
"Wild Coast" is the best of modern travel writing by one of the foremost modern travel writers. John Gimlette's instantly engaging style, with an outstanding ability to infuse life and colour into remarkably compact writing, has been maintained and even improved as his travels to the less described parts of the world have become more extensive. Thoroughly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By SeattleReader on September 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover
My father gave me this book on the eve of my trip to this area, and I have to say I devoured it in a couple of days. Maybe my interest was fueled by my upcoming travel, but I was also caught immediately by the author's exhuberant, descriptive style. He really took me there - to rainforests so dark and green they had never been explored, to villages hidden in the trees, to outposts run by descendants of colonists from the 17-and-1800's, and to cities on the coast, each with a very different personality. What strikes me, too, is how well he paints the characters he meets. Even if we only know them for a few pages, John Gimlette manages to capture their essential qualities and share their stories. He also (impressively, I think) weaves the complex history of each country with his observations of the present day. For history buffs this is a real treat, to be immersed so enjoyably in an often-unknown part of the world.

I will say, though, that he only accomplishes this with Guyana and Suriname. Each of those countries has several thrilling chapters, but Guyane (French Guiana) has only one. It seems almost perfunctory by comparison. Maybe he was tired at the end of his trip - or maybe he really didn't like Guyane; or perhaps it's the natural animosity of a British traveler for anyplace French - but I was left wishing for more understanding, or at least more stories, from that place.

All in all, I found this excellent book packed with history, adventure, beautiful descriptions and thoughtful observations. It is also extremely well-written. Travel lovers and armchair adventurers will enjoy this one!
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