In 1925, a longtime explorer of the Amazon went again into its depths and never returned. Percy Fawcett had been seeking the legendary golden city El Dorado, or what he had termed simply “Z.” He was sure it existed, and despite tremendous privations on his forays into the vast jungle, and the deaths of several of the men who accompanied him, Fawcett simply could not shake his obsession to find it.
David Grann, a writer for The New Yorker, heard about Fawcett and his unknown fate while researching a different story and decided he must also learn more. Many explorers — or just fanatics — had sought since Fawcett’s disappearance to find him and his party, which included just his oldest son, Jack, who was 21, and Jack’s best friend, Raleigh Rimell, as well as a couple of porters. None had succeeded in finding any conclusive evidence as to their true fate, and many had perished or disappeared themselves in the hunt.
Grann writes in The Lost City of Z about not only the history of Fawcett and his expeditions, backgrounds on other explorers, and the history of the Amazon, its ecosystems and its peoples, but also about his own trip into the same territory, in 2005. Throughout the book, he interweaves the stories of each dangerous and chilling quest. The Amazon region itself is a star of the book, a mysterious and largely inhospitable area in which plants and animals grow and compete for nourishment and sunlight but food is scarce to be found. The Indian tribes of the area are also a fascinating presence, and we read the most about them and their history at the end of the book.
But overarching all is the commanding presence of Percy Fawcett. A tall, robust man of the Victorian era, his vitality and determination cannot help but be felt throughout.
Grann’s book is largely a fascinating read. It sometimes tends to be slower reading than I had expected — I had heard it was almost impossible to put down, but I was able to put it down. Nevertheless, it provides all sorts of interesting information about people and a region that I didn’t know very well up until now.
Rated: Mild, for just a handful of uses of mild language. It does, however, contain some fairly disgusting descriptions of ailments and parasites that plague travelers in the region, so if you are squeamish about maggots burrowing under people’s skin or diseases that turn people’s skin into jelly, take care.