AMAZON BURNING, my new eco-thriller, is, above all a fun read. But hopefully it’s more than mindless fun. Emma and Jimmy, the main characters, are caught up in an important fight to protect the rainforests of Brazil. And that’s something we should all care about.
The character of Souza in AMAZON BURNING is, unfortunately, a pretty good representation of some of the Mafioso-type ranchers and farmers in the region. They want to make a quick buck by clearing vast areas of jungle to plant crops or graze their cattle. Sadly, we’ve all seen so many of those photographs depicting the Amazon going up in smoke that I think we’ve become immune to them.
What those pictures don’t show is the human cost of all that destruction. Deforestation is not the only problem. The whole eco-system of the Brazilian rainforest is under attack. In scenes that are also true to life, Jimmy and Emma try to root out a wildlife smuggling ring. Criminals make billions of dollars each year from the illegal capture and sale of wild animals. Some of the creatures become exotic pets. Many others are just turned into potions and powders, because there are people around the world who really think that these animals can give them magic powers.
Then there are the Yanomami, a tribe hopelessly misunderstood since it was “discovered” by anthropologists and missionaries a few decades ago. They are known as the Fierce People because that’s how they describe themselves, probably to make other tribes more afraid of them. The Yanomami are no better or worse than other societies. They do things that seem weird to us—like put menstruating women in tiny enclosures, where they’re fed with sticks. (That inspired a scene in my novel.) But the northern Amazon has been the home of the Yanomami for centuries, and they deserve to be protected. Unhappily, the Brazilian government does not always look out for the tribe’s best interests. Illegal gold miners operate on their lands, bringing all sorts of disease and environmental calamities. The miners trade food for sex with the woman, for instance, and poison their water supplies with mercury.
In September, more than one hundred thousand demonstrators marched through the streets of Manhattan demanding action on climate change. But many people don’t realize the big role deforestation plays in global warming. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, a green non-profit, deforestation now contributes more to climate change than the entire transportation sector. So while things like electric cars and more fuel-efficient planes are vital, what’s happening in remote parts of the world like the Amazon jungle is even more important for the future health of the planet. And the problem there is getting worse. Last year the rate of deforestation in that part of the world actually spiked by one-third.
Dystopian end-of-the world thrillers are big now, especially for young adults. In my opinion, some of the scary things described in those dystopian novels are actually already happening in parts of the world like the Brazilian Amazon. Rainforest is turning into desert. The Yanomami are being killed and raped. And people kill beautiful animals just to grind them into powder. That’s the setting of AMAZON BURNING.
So, while my book is invariably described as a “quick read,” I hope readers will get a little more out of it than that. It may be a wild romp through the jungle, but it also explores some serious issues. That’s why I wrote this book.
Victoria Griffith is the author of the award winning non-fiction picture book The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont (Abrams, 2011), which won numerous awards, including the prestigious Parents’ Choice. The book was recently translated into Portuguese for the Brazilian market and was also released in audio book version.
Before becoming a full-time author, Victoria spent twenty years as an international journalist, fifteen of those years as foreign correspondent for the UK’s Financial Times. During that time, she had fun writing on a wide range of topics, including Brazil’s Yanomami Indians, architecture, space exploration, the human genome, and the growth of the Internet. She even managed to fit in some children’s book reviews. Her most terrifying assignment was preparing lunch for Julia Child, who praised the Brazilian fish stew but refused to touch the blackberry dessert. Victoria lives in Boston with her husband and three daughters.