From Gordon’s Travel Shelfie: The Robber of Memories

The Robber of Memories: A River Journey Through Colombia by Michael Jacobs

I had this book on loan from my local library because the title and blurb piqued my interest. It sat unread until it was recalled after several renews. Eventually, I purchased the Kindle version when I found the courage to pick it up and start reading. My father was robbed of his memory as was the author’s own father. At the time of travelling his mother was also suffering from dementia.

Even after several years since my father’s passing, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a travel book that would inevitably delve into the subject of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

In The Robber of Memories (£), Michael Jacobs follows Colombia’s Rio Magdalena from the sea to source. The river is so central to Colombian identity, embodying the spirit of the nation as it flows through the country with such a troubled history in recent times.

The Robber of Memories is a mythical figure from Colombian folklore who steals memories in the dead of night. Perhaps this story is given credence by the fact that there is a community along the Rio Magdalena’s course that has the highest recorded incidence of dementia anywhere in the world. The river itself is not the Robber of Memories

Michael Jacobs reason for following the river to its source is to replicate the journey of the Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Márquez, a highly regarded literary figure. He too is in the early stages of dementia when Michael Jacobs meets him in Cartagena but remembers his own journey decades earlier as if it was yesterday. It features in his writings more than once

Michael sets off with a motley bunch of companions on an unconventional mode of transport along the Magdalena. Along the way, he meets with cultures and peoples that reflect the colourful and historical Colombia. Mostly these are artists and literary types. He nevertheless encounters an eclectic mix of interesting characters along the way. These include a group of FARC guerrillas who, bizarrely, keep asking if he is afraid of them.

Rio Magdalena, Colombia

Throughout his journey poignant reference is made to his father’s memories and his descent into total memory loss. Michael struggles too with the guilt of continuing the journey after intermittent phone calls from his mother who is suffering from the ravages of dementia. The narrative is full of melancholy but is not gloomy or despondent. Anyone who has experienced dementia in someone close can empathise with the author. For those who enjoy a decent travel narrative will enjoy the story of his journey of exploration.

Robber of Memories
Rio Magdalena flows through Colombia

For me, travel writing at its best is the ability to bring the reader along the journey with you. I felt at times as if I was sitting beside him on the cargo barge, in the vehicle or on foot such was his descriptive powers. After such a journey along the Magdalena I felt his arrival at the source was a little anti-climatic; but then, was this really the point of the journey? Was it like Speke, Livingstone or Stanley who searched out the source of another great river, the Nile? Or was it something far more ethereal?

Was it a journey of inner discovery? Or was it a coming to terms with the ravages of Alzheimer’s in his own family and the possibility that he stood a good chance of treading the same path? You, the reader of The Robber of Memories (£), will have to decide.


The Robber of Memories: A River Journey Through Colombia by Michael Jacobs
ISBN-10: 1847084087
ISBN-13: 978-1847084088

Kindle (£)
Paperback (£)
Audiobook: Not available

Disclosure notice: Some of the links in the text of this post are affiliate links. That means I get a small payment should you click on the link and subsequently make a purchase. This is at no extra cost to you. These links are identified by the “£” sign in brackets (£) after the link.

Other books in the “River Exploration” genre of travel books that you might enjoy reading

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Travel Unpacked is all about travel; from luxury to adventure travel and all related topics. There are reviews of accommodation, eateries, airlines,  ferries, books and much more. You will find stories, lists, hints and tips as well as experiences you might want replicate on your travels. It’s about travel as you want it

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