Friday, September 4, 2009

The Lost City of Z by David Grann

Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett was “the last of the great Victorian explorers who ventured into uncharted realms with little more than a machete, a compass, and an almost divine sense of purpose”. And like many of his kind, he disappeared into the Amazonian jungle (in 1925) never to return.

The Lost City of Z tells the tale of Fawcett’s quest for El Dorado (which he referred to as “Z”) and the subsequent attempts to find out what happened to him. It’s also part memoir, because Grann didn’t just research this book from his desk. There’s a small part of me that understands this desire to get about as far off the beaten track as you possibly can, and then there’s the part that wonders: if I had been researching the dangers of the Amazon, including hostile tribes, skin-eating diseases, and parasites that target every part of your body, including… but let’s not talk about the little fish… would I actually pack my bags and head in that direction? I have to hand it to Grann, because I think I would be staying right here in the Chicago ‘burbs. Especially as many of the Fawcett-seekers never came back.

OK, in these days of air transport, antibiotics, GPS and better understanding of indigenous peoples, things are a bit safer, and Grann’s adventures could be said to have involved discomfort rather than any of the nasties listed above. Still, the first-hand account did lend color to a narrative that already had sufficient material to entertain its readers. AND, according to IMDb, a movie is now in pre-production with Brad Pitt in the leading role, so dashing explorers may be in fashion once more by next year and a whole bunch more, um, visionaries could be heading for the Amazon.

All this is a roundabout way of saying I enjoyed the book. The writing didn’t wow me, being journalistic with a definite leaning towards cliché. Maybe a bit more editing was needed, or maybe it was just the subject-matter that lent itself so well to familiar tropes. But the subject-matter is pretty entertaining, and I actually liked the conclusion, which left me more interested in the Amazon from a purely historical/anthropological standpoint. A book that ends well! As you may know from my other reviews, I am seldom satisfied with endings.

So go forth, young man, or woman, and read this book for a Discovery Channel-ready account of derring-do or lunatic obsession, depending on your point of view. At 270 pages of narrative, it’s a quick and entertaining read.


Chad Sayban said...

I had a hunch that this might get made into a movie when I read the review in Bookmarks. Thanks for the great review!

Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

I love book review blogs! This is a great one-- lots of reviewers, like the Midwest Book Review almost. I do a lot of reviews myself and I'm going to link to this one in my website. I'll e-mail you today, Moonrat.