Thursday, December 18, 2008

Book Review: The Lost City of Z by David Grann

The Lost City of Z, by David Grann

It’s been a long time since I picked up a book, barely read the dust jacket copy, started reading and found out, WAIT, I really, really, like this book.

I had never heard of the Lost City of Z, although I had heard of El Dorado, the city conquistadors said lay in the thick of the Amazon, full of gold piled to the ceiling of temples and complete with an advanced civilization occupying it. Explorers returned later to find primitive tribes distrustful and without hordes of gold, so the newcomers claimed the former Europeans had exaggerated the tales to make a name for themselves or get more funding to return to explore the South American continent. (Not that they had in fact, wiped out civilization there due to diseases they brought to the area.)

One of the latter explorers was Percy Harrison Fawcett, from England, although he was not skeptical of the hidden city. He believed El Dorado existed, but he referred to it as the Lost City of Z; he pinpointed it to lay in Mato Grosso in Brazil. Fawcett was known as a rugged survivalist, and each trip he took to South America, he gathered more information about the legendary city, but more than that, he met with tribes and befriended them, lived off dew and leaves, escaped fever and disease that wracked his expedition parties, and managed to make a living legend out of his constitution and visionary explorations. So much so that he has cults and fanatics that surround his legend to this day. But the strange thing about Fawcett, was that he and his son disappeared on their last expedition. No remains were ever found, no tribe ever gave a truthful explanation of their disappearance.

Now, I haven’t read an adventure novel in quite some time. The book itself is nonfiction, reads like an engrossing novel, and manages to tell the story in the simplistic reporting style of Hemingway, and the every turn in the plot, I would stop reading, look at the cover and wonder, “this is a real story, right?” Sure enough, it is.

I couldn’t put it down. It was part Joseph Conrad (a less foreboding Heart of Darkness), part Hemingway (with the minimalist prose), part Moby Dick (with the searing, blinding obsession that each character falls into about Z, even the writer himself). It was essentially a biography of Colonel Percy H. Fawcett, but it reads like something so much larger than a staid biography. Grann treats his own intrigue with the Z/Fawcett story delicately, and the reader is able to see how each person who left for the Amazon truly was engrossed with the idea of the Lost City of Z or finding the lost explorer, each for their own reason, and Grann’s is no more original than the others, only he manages to escape alive, unlike the thousands who flocked there at the turn of the twentieth century.

I highly recommend this book when it is released in February. David Grann is a flawless writer who writes for the New Yorker, and this is his first book. I found myself longing to know the truth about Fawcett’s disappearance, even more than the mystery of Z. I became endeared with the passion and determination of the Colonel, and truthfully, I didn’t want the story to end. They’re making a movie out of it starring none other than Mr. Brad Pitt, so I’m sure it will do well and elevate this story to the top of society’s consciousness, but the thing I like most about this story is its lost intrigue. It tells the story of a forgotten time as well as a lost city and a lost man. It was a time of maps without all the corners and hidden places filled in; people were explorers and risked their lives for the sake of exploration, science, greed, notoriety, because there were places still undiscovered on this planet. There were ways of disappearing in the jungle without a cell phone, a computer, fancy camping/survival gadgets, or even vaccinations for diseases like malaria. I fell in love with the romance of the time, as well as wishing Fawcett and his son back for Nina (Fawcett’s wife) to see them again.

This book was so good! Please read it when it comes out.

Percy Harrison Fawcett

More information:
Random House
City of Z Wikipedia
The Movie Blog
Percy Harrison Fawcett Wikipedia

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