As I write this, it’s minus a gazzillon outside with a wind chill that freezes your nose in seconds. My dog is afraid to pee and I worry my 16-year-old car will decide it’s had enough. Outside, it looks like a Swedish movie -bleak and unrelentingly white.
So instead of the spy thrillers I’ve been curled up with lately, the thought of hot green jungles, dripping with humidity, and alive with wildlife, seems about as far from what’s out my window as possible. There have been some great novels set in such tropical landscapes and in fact, a few have become literary achievements of the highest order.
Jungles and rainforests are particularly exciting because they are so strange, so foreign. The unknown lurks beneath every leaf, the trees are alive with terrors, the mystery of the unexplored beckons. The perfect setting for a book. For a start, not many of us have been there. Books therefore take us to parts of the world where we’re not likely to go. Places known for their danger, deadly animals, undiscovered plants and a dark, damp setting for our reading pleasure.
If you’re looking for a respite from the depths of Canadian winter, here are a few recommendations to lift the spirits. Close the drapes and feel the heat.
The African Queen by C.S. Forester
Movie buffs will be familiar with the classic film adaptation of this novel starring Humphrey Bogart and Kate Hepburn, but did you know the censors objected to two unmarried people cohabiting on the boat? Scandalous! Set in colonial Africa at the start of WWI, it’s a classic adventure tale as a hard-drinking skipper and an uptight missionary band together to escape German soldiers and the African jungle. Good fun on a dark winter’s night.
The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
A tale of a different Africa, Conrad’s classic is an examination of the human soul once separated from the constraints of civilization. The narrator, Marlow, recounts his journey as captain of a steamboat deep into the Congo where white colonists have developed a thriving ivory trade. As he nears his destination, he becomes more and more fascinated by meeting Kurtz, the white trader who has seen into man’s true heart of darkness. A difficult, but rewarding, read. Of course, movie fans will recognize it as the basis for Francis Ford Coppola’s film, Apocalypse Now, one of my favourites.
Into the Jungle by Erica Ferencik
A wild ride by way of educational, eloquent, and poetic prose, Ferencik uses visceral language to describe a woman’s fight to stay alive in the Bolivian jungle. It’s a vivid plunge into a wondrous and eerie world.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Those of you who know me, know I’m a super-fan of Patchett’s and this book doesn’t disappoint. A wonderfully suspenseful tale of a middle-aged doctor turned researcher who goes to the Amazon jungle to investigate the death of a colleague and the mysterious miracle drug he was working on. As Marina journeys into her own ‘heart of darkness’, she confronts her heritage, her memories and her tragedies.
The Darkest Heart by Dan Smith
Looking for a mystery filled with murder and mayhem set in an exotic locale, this one’s for you. Take a journey through the shadowy heart of Brazil and the even darker mind of a killer, where fear is a death sentence and the only chance of survival might mean abandoning the only good thing you've ever known.
Crisis by Frank Gardner
A jungle full of more dangers than just animals and poisonous plants, Gardner knows Colombia and other dangerous places very well from his years as a security correspondent with BBC. Luke Carlton, ex-special boat service commando, now M16, is sent into the steaming Colombia jungle to investigate the murder of a British intelligence officer but finds himself caught up in a plot that has terrifying international dimensions. A thriller for the 21st century.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Set against the Congo’s fight for independence from Belgium in 1959, this ambitious novel cemented Kingsolver as a writer of note. Told by the wife and daughters of missionary Nathan Price, the family soon find that everything they took to Africa, including their religious beliefs, is calamitously transformed. A suspenseful epic of tragedy.
Winters may be long, but it's also a time to burrow inside with good books. And we will get though it. Get vaccinated. Get boosted. Wear a good mask. Yell at the government to do more.
In the meantime, happy reading!