Magdalena: River of Dreams
(BODLEY HEAD, 432 PP, £25)
Tablet bookshop price £22.50 • tel 020 7799 4064
The Magdalena is the mirror image of the Mississippi, not just in its land-carving might, not just because it is the only other great river to flow into the Caribbean, but in its defining cultural impact. Named after the woman who wept for Christ, the Magdalena is unique as the only tropical river that flows south to north for its entire length, and Colombia would not exist without it. Though navigation southwards was fraught and slow until the aeroplane came along, the river and its vast basin opens up a territory that contains just about every land form known on earth, the richest flora, fauna and avifauna of any single country, the most complex biodiversity and natural resources, and a palimpsest of ancient civilisations that are known only from enormous man-made mounds and outsize statuary.