Jun 6, 2009

YetiReview: The Lost City of Z

20 words or less: An intriguing tale of Amazonian adventure that depicts a more dangerous era of exploration despite some filler material.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Pros: Mystery of Fawcett/Z is compelling and drives the story forward, Amazon descriptions are both terrifying and beautiful, strong last third.

Cons: Some filler material which detracts from overall enjoyment, no balance between historical and contemporary stories

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon , by David Grann, a staff writer for the New Yorker, is the story of Percy Harrison Fawcett. Fawcett, a genuine man's man, explored the Amazon rainforests in the early 20th century; mapping land and rivers no European had seen before. He would often disappear into the jungle without a trace, only to emerge emaciated and ragged weeks or even months later. Over the course of his explorations and interactions with the native Indian population, Fawcett came to believe in the existence of a mythical city he referred to only as Z.

Z was hypothesized to be the pinnacle of pre-colonial South American civilization. Hidden in the unexplored depths of the rainforest, Z was to have proven that the so-called “savages” utilized techniques vastly more sophisticated than the anthropologists believed. It was environmental Darwinism; the hellish quality of life so often experienced by Fawcett and his fellow explorers couldn't possibly sustain a magnificent city. Or could it?
Fawcett became haunted by Z, risking everything each time he set off into the untamed jungle in the hopes of returning with proof that would change history. In 1925, Fawcett gambled one last time and lost, disappearing with his son into the jungle, never to be seen again.

In The Lost City of Z, David Grann chronicles the tragic life of Fawcett. It is a heart-breaking character study, depicting both the heroic adventurer who was seemingly impervious to danger or disease and the darkly determined man who was unwilling to accept failure or weakness at any stage. While Fawcett is doing the remarkable page after page, you know that Grann framed his book around hiss disappearance and that he ultimately does not succeed. Because of this, I felt the first two thirds of the book end up being slightly overweight. Knowing Fawcett’s fate erodes the dramatic tension from his early expeditions and while the depictions of the jungle depths are profoundly interesting, his endless quests for funding in the civilized world wear thin quickly. The story of Fawcett, while too complex to be detailed in a magazine article, simply doesn’t have enough variety to fill a 300 page book, especially when Grann makes no attempt to disguise Fawcett’s ultimate fate.

Instead, Grann drives the book forward with his own search to find out what really happened to Fawcett, hoping that he can find a clue that hundreds of others have missed. To do this, Grann alternates chapters of Fawcett's history with his own experiences tracking down Fawcett’s fate. He tries to draw parallels between Fawcett's quest for Z and his own search for Fawcett but they fall flat for most of the book, not possessing the same level of danger and mystery as actual exploration. It isn’t until the point that Grann's need for the truth draws him into the jungle in Fawcett's own footsteps that the story becomes a page turner. The hope for some semblance of closure drove me through the last third of the book and left me wondering what else might be hidden in the verdant labyrinth of the Amazon. In the end, Fawcett’s incredible explorations in the jungle and Grann’s quest for answers really made this book enjoyable and captivating despite some filler material in the first two-thirds to bolster the page count.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...