(written by Miljenka Buljeviĉ, literary critic)
Does pristine wilderness still exist? What makes us travel and explore the farthest corners of the planet, strange cultures and virgin wilderness? What lies beyond the horizon? How far can we go, and how much can we endure? The search for answers to these questions is the driving force behind an exhilarating, courageous, soul searching odyssey into both real and metaphoric jungle.
Davor Rostuhar began traveling at the age of 16 and at the age of 19 became a professional traveler, writer and photographer. At that time he set out on an 8000 kilometer journey on bicycle from Croatia to Egypt, accounted for in his first travelogue Just keep on moving. Already then, it was obvious that this young adventurer is not interested in tourism. His first book, as suggested by the title, could be summarized in the motto ‘moving is living’. Physical hardship and the challenge it poses on human will on one side and the primal urge to go beyond limits on the other will remain his incessant well of inspiration. Luckily for his readers, he did not stop there and turn into an extreme sports entertainer. Rather he went on to exploring cultures and peoples, as well as the profound spiritual impact travel has on oneself. His insights into the lands he roamed and people he met are far beyond a superficial cultural survey. As it turned out in his second book, On the Way to the Hidden Valley, traveling is as much a physical challenge as it is a spiritual necessity. This dual nature of travel, physical and metaphysical journey, translates into an engaging but sober prose style which absorbs the reader’s attention.
A few years and a dozen of expeditions later, Rostuhar sets out on the journey of all journeys in search of paradise on earth, that mythical land where people still live in complete harmony with nature. In the time of satellites and Google earth, he ponders, the single paradise still hidden from the Big Brother eye can only be in the jungle. And the odyssey begins.
Drawing heavily on Joseph Campbell’s work on myth and his concept of the hero’s journey, The Jungle is actually an exploration of human need for heroes in the modern world, the need for leaping into the unknown in order to bring back the forgotten wisdom. Framed in eight expeditions to the Amazon rainforest, Papua New Guinea and West Papua, The Jungle develops along the lines of Campbell’s structure of myth – parting, initiation and comeback. The form of an adventurous travelogue intertwines with a delicate web of anthropological, historical, cultural, and psychological insights into the nature of travel as well as a story of a young man on his way to personal transformation. It is the balance of all these ingredients that make The Jungle a page turning read.
The Jungle is not a monologue or a lecture in anthropology. It is an engaging dialogue which demands that the reader change his perspective with every new episode. And just when we think we have discovered the truth about wilderness, a romantic notion about paradise on earth, it snaps us out of our dream and reminds us that we have to go on. Rostuhar skillfully makes the reader feel every soaring blister on the author’s feet, shiver with cold in a soaking tent, or tremble with excitement at the sight of a jaguar. Sometimes, he is a 21st century Marlow puzzled by the jungle respectfully, sometimes he is a romantic poet glorifying the Eden man fell from, but most of the time he is a man on a Socratic mission to be true to himself no matter how unpleasant the truth may be. Step by step the author leads us further into the jungle, which gets wilder and more dangerous with every expedition. As he is drawing closer to the big discovery, the Korowai tribe that still lives in the Stone Age and has never been contacted by Western man, so does the reader begin to grasp that the real adventure is going on inside Rostuhar himself. Like in a crime novel, the loose ends tie up into the sobering conclusion - the last frontier waiting for a man to conquer is deep within ourselves. Even the Korowai, who are deeply embedded into the archetypal world, have no notion of paradise. It is the inner journey a hero has to take in order to discover its truth.