Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Lost City of Z

I have to give the book its full title "The Lost City of Z: A Legendary British Explorer's Deadly Quest to Uncover the Secrets of the Amazon". Impressive eh? And truth be told, it is an impressive book. It charts the life story of Percy Fawcett, an intrepid British explorer who was the last of the great explorers. It has been suggested many times that the character of Indiana Jones, amongst others, was based upon the larger than life tales of this amazing and fascinating man.

Fawcett disappeared in 1925 in the Amazon along with his son and his son's friend. Over the years he had spent in the jungle, he had become convinced of the existence of a great and ancient civilisation, which he enigmatically called Z. He wasn't the first European to fall into this train of thought. After all, the legend of El Dorado has been around for centuries.

Fawcett's reputation, resilience and strength as an Amazonian explorer was legendary, yet Fawcett had to fight hard to obtain funding for his final expedition. At the time, his ideas were generally disdained. Scientific study of the Amazon declared that, despite the apparent abundance of the jungle, it was generally incapable of sustaining a large human population. The journals and diaries of fellow explorers describe hardship, dense growth, vicious burrowing insects, hostile warlike natives and many incapacitating illnesses. People simply did not believe that a great civilisation once existed in the Amazon.

Fawcett sent many letters from the jungle on his last expedition, describing his adventures for newspaper columns the world over. But the letters stopped and Fawcett was never seen or heard from again. Over the years, stories would emerge from the jungle of a white man seen with native tribes, or the son of a white man, but no definite evidence of the fate of the expedition was ever uncovered.

David Grann is a staff writer at The New Yorker and this is his first novel. He freely admits to becoming absorbed with the subjects about which he is writing. In the case of this book, he decided to follow in the footsteps of Percy Fawcett and venture into the thick Amazon jungle. He studied the surviving Fawcett journals and documents and obtained access to hitherto unread family archives. By piecing together a new perspective on Fawcett, Grann entered the jungle and revealed how Fawcett may not have been that far off the mark after all.

Grann's writing is superb. He moves seamlessly between the past and present. His research into the scientific and historical aspects of the Amazon help form a fascinating and truly entertaining biography of this amazing man and his quest. Fawcett emerges as a character who had the courage of his convictions and an amazing capacity for action. This tale is a fitting tribute to a larger-than-life character.

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