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Review of "The Last of the Tribe," by Monte Reel

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

THE LAST OF THE TRIBE

The Epic Quest to Save a

Lone Man in the Amazon

By Monte Reel

Scribner. 271 pp. $26

In the early fall of 1996, a team of Brazilian government workers descended into the jungle of the Guaporé River Valley, a tangled tract of Amazonia known to locals as the "Green Hell." They eventually emerged with photographic evidence of a lean, mustachioed Indian man who lived alone on the valley floor, apparently the only remaining member of a vanquished jungle tribe. As Monte Reel notes in his gripping new book, "The Last of the Tribe," this "spectral wild man" was one of the few modern examples of a human being "existing within a vacuum of complete solitude, day after day, week after week, year after year, without the companionship of another soul, without any communication whatsoever." The bulk of "Tribe" follows the efforts of a hardy group of conservationists who fight to protect the Indian from the incursions of loggers.

Reel, a former South America correspondent for The Washington Post, is good with the context -- the section on official Brazilian policy toward indigenous people is powerful and sad -- but he's best when he's indulging in good old-fashioned adventure-writing: Arrows fly, poisonous snakes writhe through the undergrowth, and sinister ranchers lord over the boomtowns of Brazil's Wild West. The real star here turns out to be the Amazon itself, a place thick with "irrepressible" flora and a "gaudy display" of fauna -- a place, in short, that is "neither paradise nor perdition."

-- Matthew Shaer


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