been, Alexander apparently felt thernneed, as a travel writer, to add the tropicsrnto his resume. “I felt I could never winrnthe game,” he offers in a sole literary allusion,rn”if I did not, at some point, movernmy token into a jungle square and followrnJoseph Conrad into the Heart of Darkness,rnwhere life would be reduced to itsrnessentials, written in sharp contrasts.”rnJust why Alexander undertook his travelsrnto the rain forest we are never sure, apartrnfrom the homage to Tarzan. Careeningrnabout in places like Malaysia and thernAmazon, Panama, and the Tongass ofrnAlaska, he offers sketches of faraway, exoticrndestinations, never linking one placernto the next except to point out the obvious:rnbig trees grow in rain forests, and bigrntrees are falling as the world develops.rnThese sketches are modest in everyrnway. They are also honest, withoutrnthe usual posturing and chest-beating.rnWhen Alexander is uncomfortable,rnhe says so. When the locals displeasernhim, he says so as well, and without thernstudied sneer of Paul Theroux. Whenrnhe eats something unpalatable—^like therndurian fruit of Malaysia, “with its onionlikernflavor and athletic-supporter aroma”rn—he confesses to wanting to wretch.rnLIBERAL ARTSrnSTRANGE WAYSrnAccording to the January ?1/Februaryrn6 issue of the London Weekly Telegraph,rnthe British Home Office hasrndecided to award £35,000 to seven inmatesrnat the Strangcways prison whornsuffered high levels of stress whilernparticipating in a prison riot in 1990.rnThe prisoners won the lawsuit byrnclaiming “that their personalitiesrnchanged because of the Strangewaysrnriot.” One of the prisoners, TerencernJeggo, complained that he hadrnchanged from “a happy-go-luck personrnto a time bomb about to go off.”rnHe takes no foolish risks for the sake of arnmere paragraph; resume-building goesrnonly so far.rnGrown out of magazine articles, thernwriting seems hurried and pinched as ifrnby deadlines and considerations of space,rnfull of ellipses and sometimes maddeningrnreductions. Describing a forest sanctuaryrncalled Taman Negara, meaningrn”national park” in Malay, for instance,rnAlexander observes, “It was preserved onrnthe cusp of Wodd War II. Then Britainrnwas asked, politely, of course, since that’srnthe way Malaysians do everything, to gornhome.” This is perfect travel-magazinernformula, jocular and pleasantly informatiye.rnIt is also wrong, brushing aside a warrnin which thousands of Malays and Britishrnsoldiers alike died, few of them politely.rnIn Alexander’s hands, again followingrnformula, the people who wander amongrnTaman Negara’s tall trees, the OrangrnAsli, are extras on a set; about them wernlearn little more than that “they arernroughly equivalent to animists”—whateverrnthat means—and that Alexanderrnfinds it amusing that they should throwrnaway their cassette recorders when thernbatteries die, thinking the machinesrnthemselves done for.rnAlexander is better when he takes onrnthe pieties of the rain forests’ would-bernchampions, “conservationists reminiscentrnof weeping religious seers,” whosernefforts to make the rain forests part of thernheritage of all humankind too often displacernthe people who live and work there.rnWhen he describes the jealousies and intriguesrnthat arc played out among thernmulti-acronymed agencies scrambling tornstake out their bit of tropical turf, he producesrnsome wonderful writing. Therernare few better send-ups in the literaturernthan his skewering of the “eco-warriorsrnand social development gurus who hadrnmet in Bolivia or Ecuador or Peru, peoplernwho trax’elled the Third World, freelancingrnfor NGOs [nongovernmentalrnorganizations], carting their JacksonrnBrowne song collections from one tinyrntown to another, living in rented housesrnall complete with computers and mapsrnand a local girifriend and maid service,rnplaces where First World cash madernthem the biggest man in town.”rnHis account of the Guatemalanrnrain forest, which now lies at the centerrnof world attention, is a case in point.rnAlexander writes accurately and affectinglyrnof an old chiclero, don Lanzas, arncollection of chicle from gum trees; hisrnaccount of don Lanzas’s hard life, spentrnin murderous circumstances and nowchangingrntimes with “thirty-two separaternorganizations in the Peten all trying tornhelp,” and all getting in the way, is sympatheticrnand seemly. Alexander is alsornstrong in his reportage from the little islandrnnation of Dominica, which hasrnbeen wrestling with the hard questionsrnof how to convert its economy from therntraditional extractive industries to ecotourismrnwhile averting the perhapsrninevitable flood of Club Med types,rntravelers who enjoy cheap holidays inrnother people’s misery. Foreign agencies,rnAlexander writes, have again been unhelpfulrn—notably our own USAID,rnwhich has latelv been pouring money intornrestoring an old Rose’s Lime Juice factoryrnfor the Dominican tourist itinerary.rnAs Alexander suggests, such interventionrncan lead only to jungly places becomingrn”Heart of Darkness with Hollywoodrncachet and amenities.”rnBut these high points, fine and wellmeaningrnas they are, do not save GreenrnCathedrals, which seems at root an aimless,rnunfocused book. As often as he getsrnthings right, Alexander misses or brushesrnaside the real stories gleaned from hisrnwanderings. Intertribal conflicts among,rnsay, traditional Alaskan Natives and theirrn”progressive” kin, who agitate for minesrnto open in their stretch of old-growthrnrain forest so that development dollarsrncan roll in, are left unexplored, althoughrnthe outcomes of such conflicts will determinernthe fate of huge swaths of forestrnthe world over. Alexander does not tellrnus that the planet’s rain forests are beingrnripped apart for Copenhagen furniturernand Japanese stockpiles, for the supposedrndrugs—including a bark tea from one ofrnDominica’s thousand-odd species of vascularrnplants that makes LSD pale byrncomparison—and sexual stimulants andrnother wondrous stuff they contain. Neitherrndocs he tell us that those rain forestsrnare being ripped apart because the peoplernwho live in them are poor and hungry,rnready to sell their birthright for arnmoment’s respite from the troubles ofrnthis world.rnIn such matters lie the real story of thernmodern Heart of Darkness. We will havernto wait for another, more purposefulrnbook to get at it.rnGregory McNamee’s most recent booksrnare The Sierra Club Desert Readerrn(Sierra Glub Books) and, with ArtrnWolfe, In the Presence of Wolvesrn(Grown Publishers).rn30/CHRONICLESrnrnrn