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From Barnes & NobleOur Review
In the charismatic prologue to Stranger in the Forest, Eric Hansen depicts himself as a precocious, imaginative eight-year-old, stalking rhinos with a spear in his yard. (In grown-up talk, that means attacking flower bushes with an old bamboo pole.) Many years later, Hansen's fantasies of jungle adventure came true when he entered the rainforests of Borneo, undertaking a near-impossible journey across the entire island on foot. After struggling through 1,500 miles of dense forest, enduring leeches, innumerable cuts and bruises, and a harrowing tribal attack, Hansen emerged with an amazing story and a transformed sense of self.
The inaccessibility of Borneo's interior -- a vast expanse of towering rainforest, tangled rivers, and high mountain ridges -- prevented Hansen from entertaining thoughts of making the trek alone. Locals told Hansen the best guides would be the Penan, a tribe of nomadic jungle-dwellers who seldom leave their rainforest home. It took several days of hiking into the forest with two villagers before the shy Penan revealed themselves, suddenly, by stepping out of a bush right underneath Hansen's nose. Over the next several months, Hansen began learning how to survive in the rainforest, a world where the leaves are so tightly packed overhead that the sun never reaches the ground, while connecting with the culture of the forest dwellers. As in most travelogues, Hansen's focus on the beliefs, folklore, and rituals of the native Penan and Kenyah tribespeople he meets allows his own identity to shine through. Hansen is a friendly, witty traveler who refers to the importance of laughter throughout the book, claiming "I could do without a map, but a sense of humor was essential." The uselessness of maps is another recurrent theme, as the disorienting rainforest world places Hansen entirely in the hands of his guides. Free from the burden of navigation, Hansen fills his journal with incredible descriptions of the forest. Hansen is not the first traveler to describe the rainforest as a living creature, but his words are particularly evocative: "It made me feel as if I were traveling through the intestinal flora of some giant leafy creature."
Although the overall thread of the book is Hansen's journey into the magical rainforest world, there is a sense of tragedy lurking around the edges of the narrative. As exhilarating, inspiring, and unforgettable as it is, Stranger in the Forest is a snapshot of a world that, to a large extent, no longer exists. In the sobering epilogue, Hansen describes the development projects and timber companies that have transformed the forest, scarring the leafy expanse with roads and patches of tree stumps. Stranger in the Forest takes on a whole new meaning in this context -- it is a vivid record of a vanishing culture.