Excerpt from Chapter 1:
The boat looked like something out of African Queen, even though it was on the wrong river. It was small and battered and doomed to a bad end. Nevertheless it chugged on, with its sole passenger, a Mr. Forbes, and his mysterious cargo.
Mr. Forbes was dressed in a beige polyester suit and a Panama hat, and he sat in the rear of the boat among his wealth of crate and boxes, looking at the trees, at the water, at the canoes they passed, with silent, meditative vigilance. He was bony and white-haired and he moved as if he had to conserve himself.
"What do you suppose he’s doing, Joachim?" the owner of the boat asked his son, who shrugged elaborately. "He’s American. Maybe a vacation. Something to do with a vacation. With Americans, it’s always vacation."
The owner nodded wisely. "And those boxes must be machines, maybe air conditioning. But me, I like this heat."
Joachim shrugged again, and then bent down to get a bottle of warm Coca-cola. He studied Forbes as he sipped it.
The gringo looked hungrily at the trees, as if they might fatten him up, Joachim thought, but then his gaze would slip and he’d end up looking at his hands. His hands were empty
"If it’s air conditioning," his father continued, "he’s crazy. He may be crazy anyway, they often are. But why would he bring air conditioning to Lago Vendrida? It’s primitive there, not even one electric light. Unless they’re building something." He considered it for a moment or two, then dismissed it. "Only a fool would build at Lago Vendrida. The worst place in the world." He nodded, satisfied. "He must be a missionary. They must be school things, and bibles. Good. They need schools."
"He said it was generators," Joachim reminded him.
"They can say anything to us. If it’s generators, it can’t be vacation."
"He’s American," Joachim said patiently. "Maybe he wants ice on his vacation."
"Ice," his father said with interest. "Ice."
And, with this speculation and that, the boat finally crept into Lago Vendrida, a small, unelectrified town on one of the branches of the interconnected rivers. There was a crude wooden dock and a flotilla of canoes. Stray, brittle dogs yapped in the one dirt street aiming itself at the water.
They were instantly surrounded by most of the younger villagers, and Forbes watched as Joachim got the cargo unloaded, aided by a giggling group of skinny boys.
The gringo’s eyes were on the boys as they yelled and leaped and slapped each other. His mouth quivered a little. He paid no attention to the men; he didn’t even seem to notice how the crates were moved; he just watched the boys. When it was all done, Joachim and his father stood next to him, until finally Joachim said, "We finished it all now," in the English he had learned at school.
Forbes nodded, dragging his eyes back to them and blinking. He said, "I’ll need a translator. Can you recommend one?"
Joachim’s head jerked up. "I am the only one here who speaks English. Not perfect, you know. But English." He suddenly looked very eager, and his father squinted. He knew a little English, too, enough to get a person up or down the river. "Very good," he said shyly. "My son very good." He had heard from others, people who had passed through big towns with stores and hotels, of the money that could be made from tourists. They paid well, they paid often, and usually just to be taken to see the ordinary things, and to look at ordinary people. Everyone he knew talked about tourists, but for him it had always been talk. It would be good if this man was the scout for more tourists; and even better if Joachim became the translator, the guide. He wiped his face to keep from being too eager, and then, recognizing he was a father above all else, he said, "And this you have here? This things? What you are this things?" He gestured to the crates, which now had boys jumping from their tops.
"I have gifts, some gifts for the people," Forbes said slowly. "American products. I want to give it to the people further in. Por los indios," he said carefully, his Spanish quickly exhausted.
Joachim’s father grinned. He understood gifts. And what could gifts be for except to pay the Indians for their help in building a hotel and causing more tourists to come, and with them wealth and American goods? He was sure the generators made sense now, because tourists came to electricity, they found it out, every time.
"My son helps," he said, nodding at his son. "You pay. You pay."
"Of course I’ll pay," Forbes said. He took out American dollars, and selected one carefully. "Every day, he’ll get this."
It was settled.
Joachim got a raft built in Lago Vendrida, logs roped together with vines—Forbes said that was good enough, so long as it could hold all the cargo. Forbes himself went to the one store in town, which had a few dozen food items in addition to some plastic bowls and combs and ponchos. Forbes slowly and carefully chose his selections: a bag of rice and one of sugar, a can each of peas, condensed milk, an unknown stew, and peaches. He hesitated and then added a bag of hard candies. All these were added to a box that held, by Joachim’s standards, a very impressive selection of city-bought foods.
The raft was built and ready to go by early morning of the second day. Joachim watched as Forbes took the two ponchos he’d bought in town and strung them from poles he’d wedged between crates at the very front of the raft. Somehow, he had lost his Panama hat. He sat on a small box underneath the ponchos.
"Where you wish to go?" Joachim asked after Forbes had settled himself.
"Here’s what I want," Forbes said, straining to turn around without losing his seat. "I want to go to a place we can reach in a day from here, where the people sometimes come here, but not too often. That’s the first place. Then I want you to ask them about a place even farther away, a place where they have met my people, but only a few times a year. When we get to that place, I want you to ask them if they know of a village very isolated, very shy, where the people maybe saw a gringo once or twice, and then we’ll find one where they’ve never seen a man like me at all."
Joachim was watching Forbes’ back, so he saw the satisfied nod that went along with this last statement; and he didn’t like the nod at all, for reasons he could not specify even to himself. Joachim had never gone as deeply into the forest as Forbes described, and as a child he had been told vivid stories of the monsters that lurked inside the jungle, monsters that pounced or lured or cajoled you out of your life. And while Joachim was poor by Forbes’ standards, he was used to certain luxuries—rice and bread and Coca-cola, shirts and shoes and antibiotic ointments—that weren’t available in the heart of the forest. And who knows what they did there, deep in the shade of the greatest trees, eating insects and making poisons and—it might be true—sucking your heart out with sharp bamboo pipettes while you slept?
Reviews for Bom Goody:
Rating: 5 Stars This book is a jewel; an enjoyable "make-you-think" kind of a book that most readers will enjoy. I certainly was captivated by it and I recommend it to others. It's a good book for discussion groups also.
--Lea Ann, BookReporter.com
An unforgettable culture shock adventure ... As events become increasingly bizarre, Journey to Bom Goody becomes maverick, exciting, and at times insightful in a good-humored way. Written a deliberate attempt of the author to balance Amazon culture views with those of the larger world, Journey to Bom Goody is an unforgettable culture shock adventure.--Midwest Book Review
... The story’s climax brings all these characters together for an ending that is a pleasant twist, yet also seems somehow inevitable. In this world Heuler conjures up, Western logic may not always apply, but something like fate certainly does. Each of the characters finds their own through trial and error, and by discovering that they are in many ways the true subjects of their own experiments.--Summer Lopez in Small Spiral Notebook
... When the reader meets Forbes, he is already in Latin America, traveling up the Amazon River to perform his tests. Forbes, however, is an aspiring scientist who lacks the training, and therefore makes rather ignorant and arrogant moves in the name of bold experimenting. Switching to a guide, Ping, who believes to be the love child of his mother and a dolphin and does not speak a word of English, is the first big move Forbes makes. Along the way, Forbes loses his guide and meets a white woman, supposedly doing medicinal research. While the Tina abhors the chummy, helpless white man, Forbes is both loving, and contemptuous of Tina for being comfortable and fluent in such foreign lands. One day, Forbes realizes that his experiments have long been out of control and starts observing the outcomes which weave together him, Tina, local tribes, Ping and the Amazons. Journey to Bom Goody takes a rather trite idea (what if Latin American natives examined us, instead of the opposite) and creates an interesting story around it. The novel is a mix of ordinary characters in unusual circumstances, usual ego wars in unlikely settings, and fresh viewpoints of the society that we live in.--Emre Peker in The Millions, a blog about books
...the evidence mounts that here is a voice that will influence other fine contemporary writing that embraces intellectual challenges wrapped in eloquent, picturesque prose.--Grady Harp, top Amazon reviewer (see the whole review by using the links to Amazon.com)