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Journey of the Pink Dolphins: An Amazon Quest

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Scientists call them Inia geoffrensis, an ancient species of toothed whale whose origin dates back about 15 million years. To the local people of the Amazon, pink river dolphins are "botos," shape shifters that, in the guise of human desire, can claim your soul and take you to the Encante, an enchanted underwater world. As tributaries braid into a single river, Journey of the Pink Dolphins weaves ancient myth and modern science into one woman's search for these elusive creatures. Over four separate journeys, Sy Montgomery follows the dolphins, tracing their spiritual, historical, and environmental past, present, and future. Ancient legends tell us that dolphins have guided humans for millennia, and in Journey of the Pink Dolphins, Montgomery answers their call, taking us to that perfect place where the Amazon melts into the forest, dolphins swim among treetops, and the twenty-first century dissolves into the beginning of time.

320 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2000

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About the author

Sy Montgomery

56 books1,377 followers
Part Indiana Jones, part Emily Dickinson, as the Boston Globe describes her, Sy Montgomery is an author, naturalist, documentary scriptwriter, and radio commentator who has traveled to some of the worlds most remote wildernesses for her work. She has worked in a pit crawling with 18,000 snakes in Manitoba, been hunted by a tiger in India, swum with pink dolphins in the Amazon, and been undressed by an orangutan in Borneo. She is the author of 13 award-winning books, including her national best-selling memoir, The Good Good Pig. Montgomery lives in Hancock, New Hampshire.

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5 stars
203 (34%)
4 stars
190 (32%)
3 stars
150 (25%)
2 stars
39 (6%)
1 star
8 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 70 reviews
May 6, 2015
I was really looking forward to this book as I'd lived up the Amazon myself at one time but it was a dud. Just plain precious, somewhat overwritten and ultimately irritatingly bad.

I knew no more about pink dolphins at the end of the book than I did after the first few chapters. The author did say that no-one knows anything much about the pink dolphins, including researchers who had studied them for years, so why write the book if you don't know anything much about them either?

Don't tell me that the dolphin needed to look into your face to feel a great, perhaps human, connection with you. Don't tell me how they caressed you with the bubbles they blew, where is the evidence that is true and not just an anthropomorphic interpretation? What I want to hear is what brings them into certain rivers, how they choose a mate, how they raise their young, how they hunt fish, and interact with each other and other denizens of the jungle. I'm glad the author liked swimming with them but what was there in that to read?

A great deal of this book is made up by the repetition of folk stories that the Indians tell. There are many such retellings in the book, but essentially there are only two stories.

1. The dolphins want to lure you into their undersea world of Encantado which is just as enchanted as it sounds but no-one wants to go there. (I asked myself 'why not?' if it is so fantastic, but I guess the answer is the same as the reason no one wants to go to heaven right now. You have to die. And there is no guarantee that Heaven or Encantado actually exist.)

2. Dolphins often turn into very handsome men who turn up at dances and then impregnate Indian maidens. This second story is repeated ad nauseum. I guess it's a way for young girls to tell their parents they are pregnant and it isn't their fault.

When I was going through the Amazon, I had a hardback copy of the entire The Forsyte Saga printed on tissue-thin paper. As I read a page or two I would rip them out to use as necessary and if I'd been reading this Pink Dolphins I would have not even been freaked that I needed to use more pages than I'd read, I'd just have ripped them out.

Plus points: its got a great cover and I liked reading about places I had been to myself and if you have sympathies with New Age tree huggers, then you might enjoy this book a lot more than I did. Two stars is being generous by a half!
Profile Image for Emily M.
348 reviews14 followers
August 26, 2022
This would get 5 stars for the clever idea of alternating between the reality and the mythology for this still-mysterious and little-known animal, the broader overview we get of the critters and ecology of the Amazon, the moments of humor and adventure typical of such travelogues, and the beautiful use of language that sweeps you along and gives you a visceral sensation of the experience. Also, I appreciated the references to the changing threats the dolphins and other Amazonian creatures face, and the efforts to make conservation more of a communal effort.

However, I've got to dock it a bit for what felt like, IDK, either unexamined colonial biases or inappropriate sensuality spillover from the sexy shapeshifter dolphin stories. Every time a Brazilian scientist or guide (of any gender) got a weirdly detailed and personal physical description - something I don't think happened to a single white person - the discomfort kinda pulled me out of the narrative. This probably wasn't done on purpose (maybe the intent was to highlight that not all scientists are white dudes in lab coats?), but you'd think a female journalist would know what it feels like to be "complimented" like that in a work setting and want to avoid it!

However, I overall really liked it, and there was enjoyment to be had even in complaining about the cringe moments!

Full blog review: https://ajungleoftales.blogspot.com/2...
Profile Image for Jennifer.
165 reviews31 followers
February 5, 2021
This is the fourth of Sy Montgomery's books I've read. In technical terms, I would say it had the most elegant prose; with regards to the content, it was probably the most significant, given the urgent need for conservation in the rapidly disappearing Amazon rainforest. And yet while I recognize all of that, it just didn't capture me in the same way that Soul of an Octopus or The Good Good Pig did, hence the 4 stars instead of 5.
Profile Image for Katrina Dreamer.
322 reviews12 followers
February 23, 2010
I've had this since 1998 and I finally read it while recovering from surgery. I completely fell in love with it and I can't believe I waited more than 10 years to read it!

Montgomery's descriptions are fantastic, her love for the animals is apparent, and her tenderness and insight are wedded magically. Like Robert Payne's Among Whales, this book made me want to drop everything and go observe some animal, any animal, in its native habitat. I want to read everything she's ever written now.
Profile Image for Barbara.
271 reviews
January 31, 2008
I didn't even know there were freshwater dolphins, let alone Pepto-Bismol-pink ones, before I read this book. I read it again after traveling along the Peruvian Amazon and seeing the dolphins,and enjoyed it even more the 2nd time. Fascinating information about the dolphins as animals and about the foklore that the river people weave around them. Also a fun adventure travel story.
Profile Image for Brittany.
1,244 reviews128 followers
April 23, 2010
Either I'd forgotten how purple Montgomery's prose could be or this one was purpl-ier than the rest. Either that I just wasn't in the right place for an evocative purple nature book, because I had trouble getting through this one. The fact that there actually aren't very many dolphins in the book--but there is a lot of looking for them--may also have been a contributing factor.
Profile Image for Kirsten.
305 reviews4 followers
August 13, 2018
An interesting book, although it's as much about the author's travels through the Amazon as it is about the botos themselves. Also there wasn't a lot about the biology of the botos - it was a lot more about how they fit into local custom and lore. That being said, if you're in it for more of a travel narrative, it is enjoyable.
Profile Image for Sue.
162 reviews5 followers
March 18, 2021
Das Lesen des Buches habe ich sehr genossen. Man lernt nicht nur viel über die rosa Delfine, auch wenn der Titel es sagt, sondern über den Amazonas generell. Die Autorin war auf der Suche nach den rosafarbenen Delfinen und ist dabei über die anderen Wunder des Amazonas gestolpert.
Sy Montgomery schafft es die Magie, die der Amazonas mit sich bringt, zu übertragen. Sie erzeugt Bilder im Kopf, während sie von Tieren, Menschen und der Natur erzählt.
Aber sie verschweigt auch nicht die traurigen Seiten. Ausbeutung und Sterben gehören im Amazonas Gebiet dazu. Aber auch, dass es dem Amazonas nicht mehr gut geht, verschweigt sie nicht. Das hat manches Mal etwas bedrückt, aber in diesem Fall gehört es dazu und ich finde es sehr gut, dass sie es mit erwähnt. Das ist nichts, was man unter den Teppich kehren sollte und sie bringt das gut rüber.

Durch ihre Erzählung spürt man auch ihre Liebe und ihren großen Respekt gegenüber der Natur. Das fand ich wirklich großartig!
Profile Image for Janet.
209 reviews3 followers
June 16, 2015
Let me first say, right up front, that I did not realize this was a book for young readers. This was one of my reasons for giving only two stars, but not my only reason.

I was really looking forward to reading this book. Pink dolphins of the Amazon! I am fascinated by most of the flora and fauna of that region and love learning about it. The pink dolphins are somewhat of a mystery. Not much is known about them and I was so looking forward to learning more about them.

The story is our author, Sy, and her journey into the Amazon. She meets amazing people who are generous enough to share their knowledge of the Amazon and the botos, the encantados, the elusive pink dolphins. There are so many legends about them, so many stories of them shape-shifting and walking on land.

I wanted to know why they live in certain rivers, how they hunt, where they breed and how they choose a mate. Do they mate for life or just for a breeding season? Is there a breeding season? Mostly, why are they pink? Why are they not all the same shade of pink?

I wanted facts. What I got was a beautifully detailed book about the author's hunt for the pink dolphins and very little about the dolphins themselves. It's her story, not the dolphin's. The photos in the book are stunning and that definitely adds to the book, but not enough to warrant three stars.

Profile Image for Cammie.
445 reviews2 followers
September 8, 2018
The good: Montogomery has her moments when her prose sounds like it would be more fitting in a poem, for better or worse smack dab in the middle of a nonfiction, “scientific” text. But mostly her subject matter is just super interesting— I had heard of pink dolphins in South America but I had no idea they lived in the amazon river!! But this book has less info about them and more about all the other crazy plants, animals, conditions, and politics surrounding the Amazon rainforest. Totally interesting, totally cool.
The bad: what’s NOT so cool is
how sentimental Montgomery gets in her writing! She is DEF no scientist or research expedition planner; many of her choices seem downright unprofessional and she comes off more like an idiot American tourist than an authority on these dolphins. I think perhaps a big part of this comes from this book simply not aging well— most nonfiction books published these days have to be both entertaining and very fact-heavy, written by scientists or experts who are not writers and often lack palatable literary talent. But I remember reading a National Geographic from the 80’s or something and I could not BELIEVE the flowery, unnecessary language— so maybe Montgomery’s writing practices are not so icky for her time but are simply out of vogue.
Profile Image for Stuart Omans.
Author 1 book7 followers
March 15, 2016
A wonderful book,an even more wonderful reader experience( in the original meaning of the word" filled with wonder, with the unbelievable" as the author, a naturalist,tells her story of going deep into the Amazon to try and document the pink dolphin ,almost unstudied into the late 20th century. She finds them as well as their mythic importance to the indigenous people. She documents the vuluminous life forms she and her photographer friend discover. We learn that a new species is discovered almost every day in his largest rain forest, but also that burning it on purpose to create tillable land is destroying these even as she writes. The dolphin itself is thought of as a shape shifter and enchanter by the native people ans as we read we think they're more right than they know. A terrific book!
70 reviews
October 3, 2017
I was visiting the Amazon rain forest for the first time and read this book while I was there. It was a perfect companion - full of interesting stories, people and facts about the rain forest. We were lucky enough to see pink dolphins in the river where we stayed and I can completely understand the author's obsession with them.
This book is a great read if you like science and travel books mixed with great storytelling.
Profile Image for Shelley Carr.
195 reviews3 followers
August 14, 2017
This was a DNF. I wanted to love it, since I really enjoyed the soul of an octopus, but I found that level of detail and science was lacking. I may revisit it later on, but at this point I just lost interest.
Profile Image for Girl.
545 reviews38 followers
February 7, 2017
Amazonia niewiarygodna i fascynująca, styl miejscami okropny, tłumaczenie ciut koślawe. Ale można poczytać.
Profile Image for Mark Lawicki.
29 reviews6 followers
March 30, 2021
I’m pleased to relate another positive reading experience from naturalist writer Sy Montgomery, acclaimed author of ‘The Soul of an Octopus’ and best selling memoir,‘The Good Good Pig.’ Utilizing her unique brand of immersive journalism, Sy Montgomery takes readers into the depths of the Amazon Basin on four separate journeys to observe and chronicle her experiences with the elusive and mysterious Pink River Dolphins. This publication registers their natural history, explains existing conservation pressures, and elucidates their prehistoric roots. Sy Montgomery eloquently weaves ancient myth, local mythology, and modern science together to transport readers into the depths of an unfathomable Amazonian Rainforest- Earth’s sole remaining cradle of biodiversity.

One aspect of this book I relish is the authors appreciable enchantment with all things wild. Her fascination with animal powers is infectious-and this embellishes her luminous prose with a charm all its own. Her remarkable descriptions of Amazonian plant and animal life-in particular her metaphorical comparisons of animals-make her story fascinating and relatable. I enjoyed the local tales and legends surrounding the River Dolphins- or ‘Botos’ as they are known to local river inhabitants. It is evident that River Dolphin conservation will be forever linked to their relationship with local inhabitants of the Amazon Basin, who seem to respect and fear these enigmatic cetaceans in equal measure.

The various sections of this book relating to the city of Manaus were fascinating. And yet, it is worth remembering this opulent ‘Paris of the Tropics’ was built on the bones of Indian slaves and laborers. The atrocities of the latex and rubber barons of Amazonia have striking similarities with the European colonization and exploitation of the African Congo across the Atlantic. Epochs of rubber gave way to epochs of gold and then wood, leaving local residents with diseases, destroyed forests, and poisoned rivers. One of the most important takeaways of this narrative is that the exploitation, consumption, and destruction of the Amazon’s natural resources is caused mainly by outsiders or foreign interests. Can the Amazon River and/or her rainforests survive the perpetual apocalypse of human greed? I hope so, for the world depends on the Amazon for one-tenth of its oxygen and one-half of its fresh water supply.

My only criticism of this book is that at times I feel there has been excessive anthropomorphizing in the narrative. I enjoyed it for the most part, but at times I questioned its veracity or its application. There is also not much information included in this book on the biology of the Botos themselves. Although some reviewers have complained about this, I don’t feel it necessary considering this books intention. Journey of the Pink Dolphins is not a textbook- it is instead an entertaining travelogue peppered with smidgeons of science and healthy doses of adventure. The narrative often digresses on a variety of biological wonderments- and this is fine with me. Journey of the Pink Dolphins is a long book I wish would have been longer.

This is one of my favorite reads in recent memory. Sy Montgomery delivered-as she often does-with writing that is brilliant, luminous, and engaging. The Amazon Basin is a land of astonishing diversity and disparity, brimming with life and death, kindness and cruelty, desperation and passion. The River Dolphins of this story are fascinating theater participants on a stage of the authors vivid creation. I couldn’t get enough of the Botos, and hoped Sy Montgomery’s adventures would continue. Although these engaging Dolphins were central to this story, the Amazon itself looms large, immeasurable, and unknowable in the background. My favorite quote of the story: “..here in the Amazon, the most unfathomable tragedies collide with unquenchable desires; the most preposterous of impossibilities come true.” Indeed, it would seem that anything can happen in a place imbued with its own magic. Five stars for this amazing book from Sy Montgomery.
Profile Image for Deborah Ideiosepius.
1,623 reviews128 followers
April 28, 2019
This was a fun books to read.

Not the first by this author that I have read, Sy's ability to describe locations, scenes, people and experiences are a big plus in all her books. In this one the four (or was it five? Not sure) trips to the Amazon river in pursuit of the Pink Dolphins are brought vividly and charmingly to life. The Amazon river the amazing jungles and all the inhabitants, residents and travelers make this an engrossing read.

Now as to the title animal; the pink dolphin, Inia geoffrensis, this book is allegedly about them, to a certain extent it is because they are an ongoing theme. But Sy's original plan to trace their migration in the fascinating rivers and flooded lakes of the Amazon stalled early when she found out they did not migrate. The people studying them gave her a LOT of assistance by the sound of it, but, in the end, she was trying to write a book about a not very visible, not very well studied Dolphin that lives in a river full of piranhas, which makes studying them that much more difficult. The rivers are not clear, there is/was not much scientific knowledge about them -I don't know if that has changed- this was published in 2000.

So rather than a narrow focus on one species, this book becomes a story of the Amazon: there are local myths told about the dolphins by locals; apparently they transform into beautiful young people and come ashore to seduce people, and more! There are interesting stories about the people who live there, the conversations efforts, the river itself, the people she meets, there is geology paleontology, staggering beautiful descriptions of a part of the world I have never been, but would not love to visit.

The Amazon comes across as lush, dangerous and intoxicating. I really admire what the author managed to do with this book because it can't have been easy but it has ended up a delightful read for the armchair traveler.

The writing is nice, at times it has shadows of the 'new age-ish' attitudes of the nineties that can be a bit embarrassing, and it gets a bit over enthusiastic with its religious overtones once or twice, but it is a christian country, so that is probably just an accurate reflection of the surrounds.

In general though, wonderful book. I know a lot more about the pink dolphins, river dolphins in general and the Amazon and it is definitely written for popular consumption, you need no scientific background at all to enjoy this lovely story.

Profile Image for Beverly.
5,162 reviews4 followers
September 9, 2021
This book is based on a two week trip Montgomery made to a lodge on the Amazon, from which she took canoe trips looking for the dolphins. She also made several more trips to Brazil and Peru while researching material for her adult book: Journey of the Pink Dolphins: An Amazon Quest.
In Encantado, she explains how difficult it is to catch site of the pink dolphins, because the water of the rivers and lakes they live in so cloudy and dense with rotting vegetation. She describes jumping into the water from the canoe, and when she ducked her head under, she could not even see her feet. She also writes about the scientists that she interviewed, and local Amazonian residents who helped her out. She describes many species of animals and plants that are unique to the rainforest. She discusses the problems of deforestation and overfishing. The area that she went to, however, has been set aside as a preserve, run by and protected by the local residents. In the back matter, she gives the addresses and websites of a couple of conservation organizations, statistics of the Amazon, weird whale facts, a bibliography, and an index. The amount of text and number of pages make this book suitable for older children, about 10 and up; it is comparable to a "Scientists in the Field" title, although it is not part of that series. Illustrated with lots of beautiful photographs, this is a fascinating foray into the rainforest.
Profile Image for Ann.
106 reviews
February 13, 2023
It is highly unlikely I will ever go to the Amazon (see: spiders, ants, caimans, piranhas, mosquitos, etc.). This book rather amazingly takes you there -- you get to experience it without experiencing all of the rainforest creepy crawlies IRL.

The beginning of the book was totally fascinating to me -- I'd never heard of Manaus and the opera house in the jungle (!!!), plus there was a lot of history alluded to that was completely brand new to me. In terms of transporting me to a different place -- this book does that, perhaps in a way that no other book ever has.

4 stars because, while I understand the mythical nature of the Boto for the indigenous people, some of the stories about them became repetitive for me after a while.
Profile Image for James F.
1,408 reviews91 followers
February 4, 2015
The story of the author's four trips to the Amazon basin to find and observe the pink dolphin (boto). I say "find and observe" rather than "study" because the author is not a scientist who studies marine animals but a popular writer on nature (known for her similar books on tigers and golden bears). The book is a very personal memoir of her trip and her reactions to the dolphins. I enjoyed reading it and there are many informative digressions about the overall biology of the Amazon and the conservation problems. (The pink dolphin fortunately is not endangered, except to the extent that the entire rain forest is.) There was a little bit of romantic mysticism and she gives more space to (repetitive) legends about the botos transforming into humans to steal them away to an undersea city than I liked, but this was a minor irritation.
Profile Image for Linnae.
1,186 reviews6 followers
March 1, 2013
Montgomery goes in search of the pink dolphins of the Amazon which have thoroughly captured her heart and imagination (though not her soul just yet), and brings us along for the ride.

The more I read about the rainforest regions of South American, the more fascinated I become. Yes, the dolphins she's after are really pink! Not only are there all kinds of environmental and cultural issues surrounding them, there are also scores of legends and stories about their interaction with humans--sometimes in their dolphin form, and sometimes as shapechangers who become human to lure away a young person to their enchanted world under the water.

Very well written. Informative and memorable. Just what I've come to expect from Montgomery.
Profile Image for Hayley.
116 reviews3 followers
March 9, 2011
Need a book to help you remove your head from the sand? This is it. Follow Sy to and through the Amazon on her search for pink river dolphins, the botos, and learn their myths and stories. The book is so much more than the physical journey, although walls dissolve and you are suddenly in an aluminum boat floating through the flooded forests, a rain of biting ants falling on you, but you learn about the people, the tribes, the rubber barons and gold miners, the medicine men and the scientists...it reminds you how large the world is and full of diversity to be respected and heard...a fabulous book.
Profile Image for Isabel.
484 reviews12 followers
November 8, 2018
Generally speaking I've enjoyed the books by Sy Montgomery's that I have previously read. This one missed the mark for me. Not that she isn't a wonderful writer with deep connection to her subject, she is. This one was just too much, too long, too many of the same words over and over again. This is one that might have been better as a magazine article.
Profile Image for Carol Evans.
1,267 reviews37 followers
October 2, 2008
To be honest, I didn't even know pink dolphins existed before we read this book. It also gave a very nice overview of the creatures, plants and people of the Amazon and the problems they are facing. A says that she thinks pink dolphins are her new favorite water animal.
Profile Image for Catherine  Mustread.
2,443 reviews85 followers
July 14, 2009
Fascinating travel/animal/nature look at the Amazon Rain Forest. Montgomery combines factual information with dolphin mythology. Author won the New England booksellers award for non-fiction. Lack of index and summary of facts would prevent this from being useful for a school report.
Profile Image for Tracy Elizabeth.
42 reviews6 followers
April 19, 2008
I have always been fascinated by dolphins and The Amazon... this book fulfilled my expectations of both. Now I just wish I could afford to go there myself. I would start out in Manaus too.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 70 reviews

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