Cola Franzen

REVIEW: Edible Amazonia: Twenty-One Poems from God's Amazonian Recipe Book.

Translated by Steven Ford Brown, and with a prologue by Marjorie Agosin. Bilingual edition, Bitter Oleander Press, Fayetteville, NY, 2002.

This is a rare and precious volume, another jewel from that magical, mysterious, misunderstood place known as Las Amazonas, so named by the early Spanish explorers for the warrior women of myth because they believed similar tribes of fierce women were living on islands in the Amazon River. 

How these poems came about is as alluring as the poems themselves. By chance—can one say miraculous chance?—a book written by the author's maternal grandfather in 1912 about conditions in the Bolivian Amazon region at that time was found more than 80 years later in the Smith College Library where the author was teaching. The family was unaware that the book had been written. I can imagine Rodolfo Arauz may have written it under circumstances similar to those that led Jefferson to write his Notes on Virginia—to satisfy the curiosity of Europeans, among whom both lived for extended periods of time, concerning their respective homelands. What is Virginia really like? What is the Bolivian Amazon really like?

In addition, the author possesses a collection of recipes handwritten by his mother, the daughter of Rodolfo. These two books led Nico Suarez, who is a writer of poems, stories, essays, as well as plastic artist and professor, to take up the challenge his grandfather began, to show the outside world the true nature of Amazonia.

These poems are subversive in the best sense of the word. Like so much of the flora and fauna in the Amazon, that use "enganos," visual trickery, as a means of survival, looking like one thing and being another, the reader is lured into each poem the way a flower entices an unsuspecting insect. Each poem is a little cosmos, containing some part of the nature, history, tragedy, and beauty of Amazonia. In other words, Eden, complete with snake:

"Towards the horizon
shape a serpent with the batter
so paradise
will be complete."
("Decoration of the Open Book Cake," p 91).

These poems are so delicate, so finely wrought, it would be a sacrilege to dismantle them to try to depict what they are like. The only remedy is to read them.

Steven Ford Brown's translations are excellent, as is the design of the book. I found the very cursive italics chosen for the titles a special delight, echoing the handwriting of the recipes. All in all, a unique and most satisfying repast. I trust there will be more such feasts.