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Paul Spencer Sochaczewski
Paul Spencer Sochaczewski

Visit Paul’s website and read the first chapter of Redheads

See all of Paul’s titles in the Bibliography.

by Paul Spencer Sochaczewski (Borneo 1969–71)
     Jeff McNeely (photographer),
     Dr. John Quigley (illustrator),
    The Encyclopedia of Malaysia (illustrator)
Sid Harta Publishing, $13.00
251 pages
March, 2000

Reviewed by Paige Risser (Paraguay 1996 – 98)

NO SOONER HAD I brought Paul Spencer Sochaczewski’s Redheads home to read, than my fiancé became engrossed in it. (Luckily for me, this was not an expose about carrot-top supermodels, but rather a novel about the struggle to save the rain forests of Borneo and its inhabitants, including the red haired Orangutan.)
     For the next two days, whenever I glanced his way to see what he felt like for dinner or to ask if he could pass me the “Style” section, instead of the visage of my beloved, I was met with that of the shaggy red Orangutan on the book’s cover. Eventually, if prodded enough, he would pay distracted attention to me. But as soon as he could, he put his nose back in the book.
     Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long in my disregarded state. My fiancé found Redheads so riveting that he burned his way through it, and a mere forty-eight hours later, the book — and the beloved — were mine once again. The book was well worth the wait. (The beloved wasn’t so bad either; turns out he prefers blondes.)
     So it was with this ringing endorsement that I began my own journey through Redheads, Sochaczewski’s tale of ambition and corruption, sex and compassion amid the fragile ecosystem of Southeast Asia.
     Sochaczewski knows of what he speaks. He’s what a fellow conservationist calls “an old Asia hand,” a succinct way to describe someone who for 30 years has lived in that part of the world and worked for as many years to preserve it.
     You can read the author’s wildlife credentials on the book jacket. Inside, however, you’re treated to his storyteller’s mind, and the delightfully quirky, flawed characters that have sprung from it. You meet all the players in a theater of lush flora and fauna teetering on the brink of disaster: the misguided American academics, a lonely Swiss eco-rebel, the disenfranchised natives, the vain government ministers, a no-nonsense conservation fundraiser and the avaricious loggers. The danger is that the characters could become caricatures of the motivations they stand for, but the author avoids this by giving each a soul that everyone can connect with.
     Sochaczewski moves them around a fantastic plot like a clever puppeteer. The Swiss man leads the natives in guerilla tactics against the logging companies. The fundraiser and the government ministers pester the academics with accountability and bureaucratic red tape. There is action, action and more action, a rollicking good time made more fun in part by the author’s steady sense of humor throughout. Readers feel his tongue firmly planted in his cheek as an observer of these very human characters crisscrossing throughout his story.
     While the novel is acutely funny, there is no question that the subject matter is also genuinely serious. Sochaczewski strikes a delicate balance between the two moods. Readers are aware that at the heart of Redheads lie the very real problems facing not only this, but many regions throughout the world. One gets the feeling that Sochaczewski’s seen it all during his fight for the forests, and runs the risk of being rendered cynical by the tragedy. But just when one least expects it, his passion and idealism are clear, and readers start to believe that despite the darkness in the world, good will win the day.
     Here’s hoping it does. Until then, enjoy a damn good read.
Paige Risser — a blonde — is the Public Affairs Specialist with the Peace Corps’ Mid-Atlantic Regional Recruiting Office.
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