Stuart Kelly

Only Iain Sinclair could glimpse Hackney in the wilds of Peru

Yet, as he travels along the Perené River, there appear to be parallels: land grabs, exploitation and the creeping homogenisation of capitalist culture

Iain Sinclair on the Perené River. [© Iain Sinclair]

It seemed like a preposterous proposition. For decades, Iain Sinclair has been an assiduous psychogeographer of London, an eldritch cartographer mapping ley lines between Hawksmoor churches and Ripper tours, skulking around the torque of the M25 and fulminating about the Millennium Dome and the gentrification (and gerrymandering) around the Olympic Stadium. So when I learned that his new book was about a journey to Peru, I sarcastically imagined he would be attempting to find the grave of Paddington Bear.

Not so, and this is vintage Sinclair. His great-grandfather, Arthur, was a botanist and author. After sojourns in Ceylon and Tasmania, he was sent to assess an area by the ‘corporate predators’ of the Peruvian Corporation of London. Although his interest is mostly in agriculture, and the potential for coffee plantations, there is always the lure of gold — whether trapped in geology or hinted at in the mythology of dead Incan redeemers awaiting resurrection on their golden catafalques.

The Gold Machine is an intense negotiation with this ancestor, and on the journey Sinclair is accompanied by his daughter Farne and the filmmaker Grant Gee. He is also shadowed at a distance by a person he calls The Advocate, a Brussels lawyer, avant-garde enthusiast and possibly a fiction. Alongside them is Lucho, their guide and translator; he is also a trickster, fixer and raconteur, a man who says tellingly: ‘This is my history. You tell me, how can I sell my history?’

Like a weird town-twinning, the Perené River and Hackney are overlaid. Sinclair’s concerns are as applicable to the Amazon as his usual beats. There are land grabs, exploitation, the disenfranchisement of local people and the creeping homogenisation of capitalist culture. This is done, however, with the driest of wit.

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