Sunday book review – On a Wing and a Prayer by Sarah Woods


This is a lovely book.

I did wonder whether I was going to enjoy the travels of a lone woman through the rainforests of central and South America in search of lots of things including Harpy Eagles – but I very much did.

Sarah Woods now works for the RSPB, which I didn’t realise until I got to the end of the book, but I did realise she was keen on birds.  She tells you which birds she sees on her travels and she seeks out particular birds, with the elusive, powerful, Harpy Eagle as the biggest prize. Did she one? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

Sarah Woods did see an Andean Condor and the description of that sighting, and of many other sightings of various wildlife, is well written.  I felt I was sharing the author’s excitement through reading her words.

The description of helping a woman in some jungle to give birth was quite interesting and memorable, but nowhere near as interesting and memorable as the description of capuchin monkeys sticking their fingers behind each others’ eyeballs. I knew women had babies, but I didn’t know that monkeys did that! I cringed at the thought of it. Isn’t nature wonderful? Is it?

Sarah has been a travel writer, writing both books and also for many newspapers and magazines. The descriptions of the places, but particularly of the people and their lives, elevated this book well above an elongated birding trip.  There is shape-shifting and drug smuggling, sloths and snakes, hammocks and rutted roads.  There is gunfire too.  This book is about a lot more than getting to see (or not?) a Harpy Eagle.

I don’t think I’ll ever go to the jungles of South America – they seem hot, sweaty and full of biting things, but I was very glad to read this excellent account of people, places and wildlife, including, perhaps, a Harpy Eagle.

On a Wing and a Prayer – one woman’s adventure into the heart of the rainforest by Sarah Woods is published by Bloomsbury next week..

Inglorious: conflict in the uplands by Mark Avery will also be published by Bloomsbury at the end of July.

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