"A memoir that reads like a mystery" -- Elle
"FAMILIES ARE SO MIXED NOWADAYS. INDEED, AS A RULE, EVERYBODY TURNS OUT TO BE SOMEBODY ELSE." --Oscar Wilde
When I began investigating the supposed murder of a family member in the Amazon, I had no idea how applicable Wilde's quip would prove to be.
I grew up being told that Walter Lindberg, the man who raised my father, had been killed in the late 1920's while exploring the Amazon, looking for gold and making maps. The story grabbed me from the moment I first heard it. In my mind, it was as though I had a second home in a tropical rainforest in Brazil, vastly more exciting than my family's real home in a Long Island suburb.
Many years later, my search for the truth behind the story would reveal more about the family members I thought I knew than the supposedly exotic one I'd never met.
But first I had to discover that Walter wasn't the hero my father made him out to be. After my father's death, I finally set off for the Amazon, only to be led by the story's twists to an even more vulnerable rainforest, the Atlantic Forest on Brazil's coast. Aided by generous Brazilians who took on my quest as if it were their own, I rang a 1930s bell in the state of Parana and said across time to Walter, "I know what you did." Today, I have a much healthier relationship with the past--and greater understanding, empathy, and love for the original story teller, my father.
I hope that "The End of the Rainy Season" will give heart to anyone who has ever wondered about a family secret. Go find the truth. Better yet, speak openly and honestly within your family before emotional pain turns to harmful secrets. John Quincy Adams said that secrecy stimulates "the passion of curiosity." Curiosity is fine, but when secrets cause later generations to act out the shames of their forbears, the results can be tragic.
Through my work with an international environmental organization, I have learned that just as secrets within families often emerge later in anger or disguise, so, too, do nature's "truths" resist efforts to bury and silence them. In Brazil, destruction of the Atlantic Forest is a big reason why the major coastal cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo have water crises. In the United States, earthquakes in response to the high-pressure injection of fracking fluids are another example of how nature is the most powerful avenger of them all.
My latest project concerns someone else's family. (Sigh of relief.) It's a book exposing the framing of an Army commander in 1914 as a sexual "pervert" -- lingo back then for gay. The book is called "Man in Trouble: Plum Island's Bachelor Commander Becomes an Army Target."
The court-martial of Major Benjamin M. Koehler is a compelling and tragic story that also has much to say about discord and anger in America today. His case illustrates the emergence of the aggressive, muscular type of masculinity that still prevails in too many parts of our society. I was fascinated to learn that early discrimination against sexual minorities was closely linked to male antipathy toward the feminine, especially greater participation by women in public life in the early 1900s.
Koehler's trial was one of the first high-profile instances of federal legal process against an alleged homosexual. He was betrayed from below and persecuted from above. Through his story we see an early instance of gender policing, and observe a stereotype being constructed of gay men as sex-crazed and out-of-control. We also see 16 men coming together to make false accusations. Take that, #MeToo doubters who claim that women have some sort of natural propensity to lie about sexual harassment.
I look forward to sharing "Man in Trouble" with readers. The court-martial took place on an island that's been mostly off limits to civilians since an Army fort was built there in 1897. Plum Island is a place with seals, rare birds, and beautiful beaches and dunes, so nature plays a role in the book, too.