The Mighty Orinoco
by Jules Verne
Published by Wesleyan University Press
424 pages, 2003
Reviewed by Chuck Gregory
A new novel from Jules Verne sounds impossible. It might be more apt to call it new to us: The Mighty Orinoco was published in French in 1898 and, for one reason or another, the book was never translated into English. Until now.
The Mighty Orinoco tells of a young man's search for his father along the then-uncharted Orinoco River in Venezuela. Subplots include the vehement disagreement among three geographers concerning the actual source of the Orinoco, the dastardly escaped convict Alfaniz who seeks to rejoin the bloodthirsty Indian tribe whose leadership he had assumed previously, and the two Frenchmen who have gone missing while on a scientific mission near the river.
But those attitudes reflect the times, and there are glimmerings of more enlightened views. I previously mentioned a strong female heroine, without any further identification. The intricate construction of this novel is such that the very existence of this person is not revealed until the plot has fully developed. I cannot in good conscience reveal her identity in this review, for it would rob the reader of a great surprise. Suffice it to say that she exists, and that she is a likable character who exhibits great courage and an exceptionally strong will. She was not the first heroine to have qualities that were often considered to belong exclusively to men, but she was among a select few when this book was originally written. It took a certain courage for Verne to create this unusual protagonist.
There are many diverse threads and patterns, skillfully woven into one cohesive fabric. The notes that are collected at the end of the book are helpful and informative -- although I prefer footnotes, on the same page as the reference. A hypertext version for the computer might actually be the best format for study.
The translation is a good one. The lyrical prose style consistently kept my interest, and I commend Stanford Luce for his achievement in bringing this Verne tale to life in English.
Chuck Gregory calls himself a Renaissance Man because he has such a variety of skills and interests. He does computer consulting, writes opinion pieces and book reviews, works with mental health consumers and runs a print shop -- but still manages to read at least three books a week. He lives with his wife and two dogs in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.