David Grann, staff writer for The New Yorker, begins by describing himself as a "disinterested reporter" who is able to avoid personal involvement in his stories. Two pages later, however, he reveals his true position: lost in the Amazon without a guide, food or water, questioning how he ended up there.
Nonfiction has a reputation (often with good reason) for being excruciatingly boring, but Grann's The Lost City of Z, A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon (2005), couldn't be more gripping. With smooth narration, Grann follows two storylines: his own trek through the Amazon, and that of Col. Percy Harrison Fawcet almost 80 years earlier. The shifts between the parallel tales are seamless and, by combining the two, he paints a simultaneously intriguing and terrifying picture of the Amazon. This book is not for the faint of heart.
Each man is in search of the fabled lost city of Z, and despite the gap of time, they face many of the same trials. Although Grann has an admittedly easier time with the advances in technology, the image of the unbridled wilderness loses the entirety of its romance. Amid maggots that grow under the skin, jaguars that prowl on the outskirts of camp and eat their dogs and natives who shoot without hesitation, Grann excludes none of the horrors from Fawcett's trip or his own.
The ancient civilization, sought after by so many, was rumored to be enormous. The jungle has been labeled as uninhabitable and far too unstable for a complex civilization to survive, however, after thousands have died in its pursuit.
Fawcett, however, was infatuated with the city of Z. Considered to be one of the last classic explorers, Fawcett made multiple journeys through the jungle without any of the new technology being adopted by his contemporaries. Seemingly invincible, Fawcett never fell prey to the traps of the jungle, and with only a small group of men and a handful of donkeys, he explored. Said to be the inspiration for Indiana Jones, Fawcett is a fascinating character. In fact, it's incredible to believe anyone like him could ever really exist.
In 1925, Fawcett, his eldest son, Jack and Jack's best friend Raleigh Rimell entered the Amazon for the last time. What happened to them was never discovered, and few clues have ever been found. Fawcett was so bent on confidentiality that he never told anyone his intended route, instead leaving maps pointing out bogus directions.
Hundreds followed Fawcett's steps into the jungle, obsessed with the mystery and hoping to find any signs of his fate, but none succeeded.
"I tried to be the invisible witness," Grann wrote, but even he couldn't resist the enticement of the unfinished story. Delving into history, searching through the files of the Royal Geographic Society and seeking scattered descendents of the Fawcetts and Rimells, Grann gathered more information than anyone ever had.
Grann offers a little of everything; from biography to adventure. The book has the favored can't-put-it-down quality of fiction, and yet you learn loads along the way. Already being prepared for the screen (starring Brad Pitt as Fawcett), The Lost City of Z is a must-read before seeing the film.
Book ReviewThe Lost City of Z☆☆☆☆
The Writer RecommendsThe Lost World (1912). By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.The Bolivian Diary By Ernesto "Che" Guevara.