The Farm on the River of Emeralds
I was inspired to get this book after reading the sequel in which, having left the farm in Ecuador which is the subject here, he embarks on travels through Brazil and reflections both on Latin America and on why and how he was thrown off the farm by his partner. As someone who also lives on his farm in Latin America, albeit in very different circumstances, I find his descriptions fascinating, especially those of the people (on whom he focuses in this book). I occasionally share his frustrations and prejudices, although my survival isn’t as dependent on the success of a farm as was Thomsen’s, and his characterisations can sometimes be very harsh – if perhaps from his viewpoint realistic. I think to get a rounded view of his experience, amounting to more than a couple of decades in Latin America, The Saddest Pleasure – his final book – is a vital read.
One comment of his that I underlined was that the ‘situation’ of the poor people with whom he lives ‘was really impossible to solve by any means yet devised.’ I sometimes feel the same, but in his last book he comes closer to appreciating that there is an arrogance in this attitude too (one which I find myself sharing from time to time). Who was he to try to ‘solve’ their situations, or even to judge them? I suspect by the last years of his life (he died a few years after writing The Saddest Pleasure) he had seen through his own arrogance and had a more balanced view of the position of gringos such as him and me in Latin America.
The Saddest Pleasure
I must have bought this book second hand in London years ago, and found it unread in a box of books. I was immediately interested because of the coincidence that I’m also 63 (like Thomsen when he wrote it) and I also own and live on a farm in Latin America. At first, however, I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy his very reflective journey through Brazil, but I found it more and more interesting as he reflected on his experiences in L America, his relationships with the community around his farm and his feelings about the destructive relationship the continent has with its northern neighbour. While my own experiences are far less dramatic, several incidents that he lived through had echoes in my own life in Nicaragua. I would have loved to have met him. It feels odd reading such a vibrant book, knowing the author has been dead for many years.