Wednesday, December 2, 2009

THE LOST CITY OF Z by David Grann

What would possess a middle-aged, out-of-shape journalist to trek deep into one of the world's most unforgiving environments to search for an explorer who vanished 80+ years ago? When David Grann reviews Percy Fawcett's secret charts, it's as though he's consulting a treasure map, and his enthusiasm would be contagious if he hadn't already told us several horror stories from other quests into the Amazon valley. The author borrows a popular technique from fiction writers by pairing a current day storyline with one from the past. I think, too, that he wanted to see the Amazon region first-hand so that he could describe the jungle with clarity, although much had been denuded since Fawcett's disappearance. Fortunately, the author had the benefit of a satellite phone, a 4-wheel drive vehicle, and a boat with an outboard motor. In 1925, Percy Fawcett had none of these luxuries and set out on foot with his inexperienced team--son Jack and Jack's buddy Raleigh--on a quest to discover a possibly fictitious lost city. In fact, most anthropologists believed that the likelihood of a civilization being able to flourish in such a hostile environment was nil. Fawcett, however, was obsessed with finding it and convinced of his own invincibility—two factors that probably contributed to his demise and that of his young cohorts. Actually, one can only speculate as to what happened to them, but the most likely scenario is that they were killed by a violent native tribe. It's also possible that they succumbed to starvation, snake bite, infection, injury, or worst of all, infestation by any number of deadly creepy-crawly things. Grann himself has a day from hell in which he's been abandoned by his guide and forced to wade through waist-high water and tall reeds to reach a village, and he's not even sure if he's headed in the right direction. At least we know he survived to tell the tale.

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