The Life and Death of a Minke Whale in the Amazon
A Book Riot “Must-Read Book in Translation for 2022”
As the Amazon burns, Fábio Zuker shares stories of resistance, self-determination, and kinship with the land.
In 2007, a seven-ton minke whale was found stranded on the banks of the Tapajós River, hundreds of miles into the Amazon rainforest. For days, environmentalists, journalists, and locals followed the lost whale, hoping to guide her back to the ocean, but ultimately proved unable to save her. Ten years later, journalist Fábio Zuker travels to the state of Pará, to the town known as “the place where the whale appeared,” which developers are now eyeing for mining, timber, and soybean cultivation.
In these essays, Zuker shares intimate stories of life in the rainforest and its surrounding cities during an age of raging wildfires, mass migration, populist politics, and increasing deforestation. A group of Venezuelan migrants wait at a bus station in Manaus, looking for someplace more stable than home, and an elder in Alter do Chão becomes the first Indigenous person in Brazil to die from COVID-19 after years of fighting for the rights and recognition of the Borari people.
The subjects Zuker interviews are often torn between ties with their ancestral territories and the push toward capitalist gains; The Life and Death of a Minke Whale in the Amazon captures the friction between their worlds and the resilience of movements for autonomy, self-definition, and respect for the land that nourishes us.
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Praise and Prizes
“Zuker combines hard-hitting reportage with stories that veer from hopeful to elegiac, and his takes on his subjects’ relationship with the rainforest are spot-on and direct . . . This one deserves wide readership.”
“Thanks to Zuker’s essays, neglected voices from a remote part of the world receive much-needed attention . . . Recommended for anyone seeking to better understand the often overlooked world of Indigenous Amazonians.”
“In poignant, lyrical, even fable-like essays written primarily from the perspectives of Indigenous people, Brazilian journalist Zuker chronicles the destruction of the Amazon rainforest . . . Zuker presents an in-depth depiction of massive environmental and social decimation conveying urgently needed information and insights.”
“With Zuker, the language, the thoughtful observation, and the work of witnessing this profound time of alteration never falters. In his prose, in his conclusions, and with his keen eye, he allows us to know him in the areas of his expertise, and in the areas of his displacement and wandering. While he does not over-identify with the people he documents, neither does he set himself apart from the world in which they find themselves.”
“These are astute and vivid dispatches from a part of the world, and a viewpoint that most Americans know far too little about—and that plays an absolutely critical role in the planet's future.”
“This unique view of Brazil’s precious, precarious rain forest shimmers with passion and an intimate understanding of ‘the friction between two worlds, between two ways of relating to the land.’”
“In this collection of linked essays, Fábio Zuker gathers together the voices of those long left out of the official conversations around what the Amazon was, is, and ought to be. By listening to ordinary people and recounting their tales, he invites us to eavesdrop on an extraordinary conversation unfolding between this place and those who call it home.”
"This collection of essays by Fábio Zuker is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the challenges and dangers facing the Amazon region and its Indigenous peoples. Zuker has the infallibly keen eye of a world-class journalist. His prose flows like water from one chapter to the next as he tracks harsh realities, like the death of a river, beside the wonderful astonishment of finding a whale in the most unexpected of places. If you get caught in his net, you won't regret it."
“Heartbreaking and necessary, these essays embody the struggles of Indigenous peoples respecting their past and fighting for their present, while exploring the long-reaching and deadly impacts that greed—and the forces of evil that supply greed—have on the world and on people in Brazil in particular.”