There is nothing new about the idea of man pitting his wits against nature and failing. In the right hands, though, it generally makes for a compelling and thought-provoking fable and Sguiglia’s are the right hands. Evocative of Conrad and the film Mosquito Coast, this is the tale of Henry Ford’s failed venture to produce his own rubber. Wishing to break the British monopoly on Brazilian rubber in 1929, Ford invested millions of dollars in creating his own rubber plantation and a city to house the workers. But the Enfer Vert of the Amazon works its own spell on people a la the Himalayas of Black Narcissus and is doomed to expensive failure.
Sguiglia’s Fordlandia is filled with characters, all escaping from and/or to something in this weird place. Ford plays God and imposes his rigorous regime on the workers who eke out an existence in a place where, it is more and more evident, people aren’t supposed to exist in opposition to nature. The surreal atmosphere and cast of enigmatic folk weave in and out of each other’s lives; it is easy to identify with their hopes and dreams, discoveries and calamities and ultimately the green issue triumphs. Politically correct? Yes, and it is easy to see what is coming from page one. But this is an evergreen (pardon the pun) tale told with grace and economy of language which is more than just another political issue fable. Unusual and recommended – even for those many members who aren’t interested in 20th century history.