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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

June 16, 1996|CHRIS GOODRICH

AMAZON STRANGER A Rainforest Chief Battles Big Oil by Mike Tidwell (Lyons & Burford: $22.95; 216 pp.). Years from now some researcher's jaw will drop upon noticing the enormous number of books on the Amazon rain forest published during the 1990s. Should the researcher pursue the matter further, he or she will discover something even more remarkable--that these volumes are unexpectedly good, their authors compelled not merely to tell striking stories but to live them, being ineluctably drawn to the native cultures actively resisting Western development.

Mike Tidwell, a travel writer and author of "The Ponds of Kalambayi," found a singularly amazing way into his Amazon story, in the person of a Cofan leader who was not Indian but Anglo, the son of evangelical missionaries from Texas. If Tidwell doesn't make the most of the possibilities--unlike Joe Kane, in last year's outstanding "Savages"--he still tells a compelling tale.

Randy Borman grew up among the Cofan, and although he attended the University of Michigan for three years, eventually realized that he belonged in Ecuador's rain forest. (No doubt his college acquaintances already knew as much, since in Ann Arbor Borman shot pigeons and collected road-kill for food.) Back home, he led a group of Cofan, by then destroying their ancestral hunting grounds while employed by oil companies, deep into the forest; he was elected chief, and started to negotiate with the government and oil interests to preserve some of the rain forest and the Cofan way of life.

Borman is no Conradian Kurtz--he didn't go native but was native--and perhaps for that reason has been moderately successful, able to speak to the international community in its own language and compromise when economic issues seemed ready to trump all.

"Amazon Stranger" works well as an adventure story and an environmental fable, but Borman's story alone is so rich it deserves even more extensive treatment.

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