Monday, February 18, 2008

Manchán Magan's "Angels & Rabies: A Journey Through the Americas" Book Review

When I discussed Magan's "Mocha's Travels: A Journey Through India" (on my blog and on Amazon), I noted Magan's ability to arrange his tales so they flowed naturally, as if the random encounters on the long roads assumed the structure of a well-paced novel with its inevitable, in retrospect, memorable meetings, plot complications, and satisfying resolutions. Magan's a flawed protagonist liable to inner dialogues with his invisible doppelganger, the daemon Rabbit who since childhood serves as his conversational foil, psychological counsellor, and spiritual angel-adversary. You can see already that this isn't your typical sunny guide along the paths of the funny natives and silly tourists the wise journalist encounters and deflates.

This characterizes this unsettling travelogue of this young Irishman's mid-1990s visits first to the Andean rainforests of Colombia, Ecuador, and Perú, and then his stay in British Columbia, followed by a drive down the coast that ends, naturally, after a jaunt to the desert, with a Hollywood ending. He opens with the remnants of a hippie cult, the Screamers, striving in the jungle to remain brutally honest, openly promiscuous, and utterly frank. Many whom "Mocha" meets share, he realizes late in his adventures, a sense that they are damaged by the West. More fragile than the rest of us, plagued mentally and physically by myriad afflictions, they strive to recover themselves in the forest-- often at a good profit selling to other wounded souls-- many of whom follow the meticulous itineraries blazed by Israeli vets needing comfort after they have fought in Lebanon-- their New Age retreats, their mantraming healing by concentrated vocalized sounds, their tapes of nature sounds, and especially their pot.

In fact, this appears a matrix of angry dogs and people stuck in trees, as patterns repeat in the Andes and Cascades. Is this a fractal existence, Magan wonders for himself, a chaotic life that assembles itself out of an infatuation with a movie star whom he falls for without knowing her fame, out of a desire to stop the chainsaws that drown out the birdsong wherever he goes, out of a wish to escape the American hegemony that like a Rorshach blot covers the continents-- he calls the US a fulcrum folded over the land of the Condor and Turtle Island equally.

Wherever he wanders, he cannot find peace. Rabbit goads him and nags him for better and worse. He fears sexual connection. This book not only records his meetings with dreamers like himself, but his own evolution from a frightened idealist into a warmer, more loving individual. That Magan manages to do this without self-pity's a testament to his control of his narrative and his own inner convictions, that one senses have not been acquired easily in the months he reconstructs over the thousands of miles he depicts with an eye and an ear for revealing detail and forgiving nature. His life is frayed, and he looks for one to stitch it and repair its warp into a weave.

(See his own website via the link on my blog homepage. Review posted to Amazon British and US today.)

No comments: