“When I went to live in the jungle in 1972, I was a Ph.D. student in clinical psychology. When I left the jungle two years later, I transferred to the anthropology department and got my Ph.D. in cultural anthropology. I fell in love with the anthropological perspective, and wanted to write a book about the people I had lived with for two years, and especially about one young woman who had become my friend.
“I wanted to describe the experience of living with people who at first seemed so different from me and anyone I had known, and of discovering that we were more the same than not, that I could recognize in my Amazonian next-door neighbor a woman so much like my mother’s best friend in upstate New York that I could picture her becoming a member of my mother’s bridge club. I wanted to write about discovering that whatever it was that drew people to each other as friends was based on some ineffable human emotional connection that cut through the differences created by language, culture, and history.
“Every time I began to write this book, it came out pedantic and preachy. I put it away, began it again, put it away. In 1991, I enrolled in Margaret Gabel’s writing workshop at the New School in New York City, and began writing a different book entirely. All the while, I had this other book, this jungle book, in the back of my head. Every time I told stories about living in the jungle, people said, ‘You should write a book about that.’ I can’t, I responded. I’ve tried. Then one day, three years ago, while I was on the treadmill at my gym, a voice whispered, ‘Two old white ladies came to live in my village today.’ And I knew then that I could write the book I wanted. At first, I thought the voice was a boy’s voice, but as it spoke more, it became clear that the narrator I was listening to was my friend Alicia. And it was through Alicia that I could tell my story.”
Joan Abelove lived in the Amazon jungle for two years, with people much like those portrayed in her book, Go and Come Back. She lives in New York City.