Dave's Reviews > The Mighty Orinoco

The Mighty Orinoco by Jules Verne
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's review
Jan 05, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction, speculative-fiction, translated, literature
Read in January, 2007

"The Mighty Orinoco" is the third Jules Verne book in the Early Classics of Science Fiction series, and the sixth book overall. The series is impressive, and this edition is no exception. The novel was first published as "Le Superbe Orénoque" in "Magasin" from January 1st through December 15th of 1898, and is the 45th of his scientific fiction stories. As with all the Voyages Extraordinaires, Verne builds an adventure story off of a solid scientific base. For this book, Verne used Jean Chaffanjon's account of his real life journeys from his book "L'Orénoque et le Caura". Where that account leaves off, Verne is forced to invent, but for the vast majority of the story, Verne's descriptions of the river, rapids, flora, fauna, and human communities were all extremely accurate.

It is easy for us today to not think of this novel as science fiction (or scientific fiction as Verne called it); however, in the days before satellites and space ships taking pictures of the Earth, matters of geography were definitely of scientific interest. While Verne endeavored to create a solid scientific basis for this story, there is much more to it then simply the search for the origin of the river. In addition to the search for the source of the river by M. Miguel, M. Felipe, and M. Varinas, there is a parallel story of the search by Jean Kermor and Sergeant Martial, who claim to be an uncle and nephew, searching for Colonel de Kermor who is supposed to be the father of Jean.

Sergeant Martial tries to keep Jean and himself separate from the other travelers, but as they are following the same path for different reasons, there is no choice but for the groups to interact. Along the way they find Jacqus Helloch and Germain Paterne, and now the main characters are together for most of the journey. Verne does have some twists in the story, but unlike today's writers, he provides so many clues as to what these twists are, that the reader is well ahead of the characters. Still, it would not be fair to include any spoilers here, and so I will refrain from going into any further details of the story.

One of the interesting themes which Verne touches on in this book is race and racism. At times, the reader has to forgive what appear to be racist comments in the text. On the other hand, Verne does have a significant number of characters from the "lesser" races in positions of unusual authority. One has to wonder if Verne isn't well ahead of his time in showing that the racist stereotypes are false.

The novel is divided into two sections. The first section introduces most of the major characters, and they are together. It ends when the group reaches San Fernando, and with the revelation of one of the big secrets. The second section takes us the rest of the way, and in addition to the story lines which have already been mentioned, the story line of a group of outlaws and renegade Indians interweaves with the other story lines more and more.

The pace of this story will feel slow, especially when compared with modern fiction. The book runs 370 pages, and those who don't like all the detail with which Verne fills the chapters will probably not care for it much. On the other hand, those who have read and enjoyed other Verne stories should enjoy this one. This is the first English edition of this book, translated by Stanford L. Luce. As with the other books in the Early Classics of Science Fiction, there is some supporting material as well. There is a short, but informative, introduction written by Walter James Miller, Professor of English at New York University. Professor Miller also provides some excellent notes for the story. There is bibliography of Jules Verne's works, and a short biography of Verne by Editor Arthur B. Evans.
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05/10/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Henry (new) - added it

Henry Avila Fine review Dave, I too read this excellent book, before GR, being a great fan of Verne. Nobody's like him... pure entertainment.

message 2: by Sol (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sol Santamarina Yes! Having traveled those landscapes myself since childhood with my parents, reading this book was delightful, and it made my seeing of these lands different somehow, his words were woven into them. It's rather less that accurate, but that doesn't make it any less wonderful. Verne is a timeless Master.

message 3: by Henry (last edited Dec 21, 2016 02:40AM) (new) - added it

Henry Avila Always fun , to read something that you personally seen , Sol... you are lucky.

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