ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

A journal for poetry, criticism, reviews, stories and essays published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


"O Amazonas Escuro" by Eugene K.Garber. Swank Books 2010. Review by Ricardo Nirenberg

Like other books by Garber, this one is a collection of stories closely related by having the same locale and partly the same characters.  The main character here is called K, bringing to mind other Ks, perhaps from Kafka’s fictions, or perhaps from the author’s middle initial, which remains mysterious even to me who have known Garber for over twenty years.  This particular K, however, is a male anthropologist who wields his craft deep in the Amazonic jungle, somewhere West of Manaus in Brazil, with a tribe called the Roirúa-peo.  And it is his good chance too, because if K lived in the USA he would get into serious trouble.  For one thing, his brand of anthropology is “etic” as opposed to “emic,” which means that he believes he is able to describe the culture of the fellows around him without becoming like them, just by observing them.  The opposite school, the “emic,” maintains that you can understand a culture only by fully participating in it: this theoretical opposition between etic and emic plays an important part in Garber’s stories.  The other, perhaps equally serious problem K would encounter among us is that his sexual preference is for boys.  The Roirúa-peo, however, do not seem to mind either K’s cold anthropological eye or his pederasty.

That’s one level of Garber’s text; Western philosophers is another.  One way or another, sometimes in persona, other times through their texts, Plato, Descartes, Spinoza, Rousseau, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Barth, Derrida and more, invade the relatively innocent darkness of the jungle, and their peculiar words and voices mingle with those of the parrots and monkeys.  In all of those, K acts as a mediator between those sublimated products of Western Civ and the mindsets of the aborigines, being the only person on site who can, at least etically (that is from the outside) understand both.

The third remarkable level in Garber’s book (I do not pretend to exhaust them) is the variation in dialects.  From the man who utters Heideggerian terms in an English which is a very rough transposition of German to the guy who is a Vietnam veteran and asks for “Just a place to crash for me and my woman” in the chapter featuring Derrida, each story is a firework of dialectics in both senses of the word.

So there you are.  If you’d like to spend some time trying to follow the intricate ways in which all those levels interact and relate, admiring how masterfully it is done, plus just having great fun, do buy this book, and do it soon, before books or the Amazonic jungle vanish, whichever comes first.

Eugene K.Garber has appeared frequently in Offcourse, the last time in our Tenth Anniversary Issue with "Shimiba's Leave Taking". His fourth collection, "Vienna 00" was reviewed in Offcourse #26, his previous book, "Beasts in their Wisdom" in Offcourse#19 . His stories have appeared in Offcourse#25, Offcourse#17, Offcourse#13 and Offcourse#10. Eugene Garber has published two previous collections of fiction: "Metaphysical Tales", winner of the AWP Award for Short Fiction in 1981, and "The Historian", winner of the William Goyen Award in 1992. His fiction has been anthologized in The Norton Anthology of Contemporary Fiction, Best American Short Stories, and The Paris Review Anthology, among other compilations.

Return to Offcourse Index.