IF MOST armchair explorers are like the reviewer, they will imagine that the danger of the jungle lies in the ferocious beasts that slink about among the undergrowth. Such, as anyone who reads "Green Hell" will find out, is not the case. Insects clouds of them are the real bete noire of the adventurer, and the smaller they are the worse they are.
This is only one of the interesting aspects of the jungle brought out in this most interesting of books. It is an account of four adventurers in a South American jungle, written in a style that makes it one of those volumes which, once begun, can only be stopped with the last page. An English cinematographer, a Russian tiger-hunter, a Bolivian diplomat, and an Irish writer penetrate a jungle which had been undisturbed for over 300 years since a Spanish explorer first traversed it.
Let the author, the Irish writer, give his reflection on the adventure: "It was a mad trip to have undertaken, a solemn request for death: but we did not recognize our folly till we were faced with the unknown, and then the lure of the skyline seized us almost against our wills."
The trip was not a highly financed, well organized exploration but more the quest for adventure by four men, only one of whom had had any experience in the jungle. Facing death became such a commonplace that it meant little or nothing and often was approached with a fearless joy for the struggle. Picture the author, confronted at night by two gleaming eyes a few yards down the jungle path, and at a loss what to do, breaking into song and seeing the eyes disappear. Song proved to be a boon to the little band of explorers because at another time it saved in all probability the lives of all of them. After being followed for two days by a murderous band of nearly 200 Indians, they were being attacked by them when, in answer to a savage war cry, they burst into a song and diverted the onslaught.
"Green Hell" is essentially a book of adventure; it is valuable for its life not its artistry. For this reason it benefits greatly by being a series of vivid and exciting incidents rather than a diary-like account of a journey. The author has the fortunate quality of being able to concentrate the action of the trip without robbing the account of its reality. In fact, the effect of reality is the book's major triumph. While the author cannot be compared to such a man as Conrad in conveying atmosphere and background, in giving a living, accurate, and effective picture of his subject Mr. Duguid's style is worthy of more than a passing note it is not beyond reason to say that he is a writer of promising potentialities, it he chooses to use them, we may expect more from his pen of the same quality as this book.