Archive for the ‘David Grann’ Category

For nearly a century, explorers have sacrificed everything, even their lives, to find the City of Z.  The search for civilization, and for the countless men who vanished while looking for it, has eclipsed the Victorian quest novels of Arthur Conan Doyle and H. Rider Haggard – both of whom, as it happens, were drawn into the real-life hunt for Z.  At times I had to remind myself that everything in this story is true: a movie star really was abducted by Indians; there were cannibals, ruins, secret maps, and spies; explorers died from starvation, disease, attacks by wild animals, and poisonous arrows; and at stake amid the adventure and death was the very understanding of the Americas before Christopher Columbus came ashore in the New World. (p. 4-5)

Now is that not a thrilling way to begin a tale?  It comes from the introduction to The Lost City of Z by David Grann, the story of the surveyor/explorer/adventurer Percy Fawcett who, along with the rest of his party, disappeared in 1925 while searching for the ruins of an ancient civilization rumoured to be rich beyond belief in the depths of the Amazon.

It is a thrilling read, so full of adventure and mystery that it seems almost too fantastic to be true.  It is the kind of story that does seem to belong in a Boy’s Own annual or some such place where stories can still be described as rip-roaring good yarns in earnest.  I’ve always loved the kind of trashy adventure novels that were so largely inspired by the actions of explorers like Fawcett so this was a perfect, almost nostalgic indulgence for me.  Indeed, I’m half tempted to pick up The Lost World again after learning of the friendship and correspondence between Fawcett and Conan Doyle, who apparently used the explorer’s accounts of his adventures as inspiration. 

But it is also an intensely sad and disturbing story.  The no-doubt unpleasant fate of Fawcett and his party (consisting of his twenty-two year old son Jack and Jack’s best friend Raleigh Rimell) is awful enough to contemplate, particularly after you’ve grown found of the obsessive Fawcett and his adoring son (who, in letters sent to his mother during the early part of the fateful expedition, still refers to Fawcett Sr. as “Daddy”).  But it is all those people who came after that really haunt me.  Poor Nina Fawcett with her stubborn faith in her husband, who went on searching for clues until the end of her days as a sort of obsessive detective and all the amateurs who caught “Fawcett Fever”, who disappeared into the jungle, like Fawcett, never to be seen again.  It gave me chills. 

The first part of the book, detailing Fawcett’s training, early expeditions, and the general development of gentlemen explorers was good fun.  After that though, things got rather sinister though no less fascinating.  There are so many ways to die in that jungle and none of them easy.  The likelihood of me ever visiting the Amazon (already very slim) has been significantly reduced.

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