Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Nonfiction Files

The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.

I'm joined in The Nonfiction Files by Jehara. If you would like to play along with us, let me know!

My current read: The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann. You can read my first post about this book here.

Synopsis from publisher:

After stumbling upon a hidden trove of diaries, acclaimed New Yorker writer David Grann set out to solve "the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century": What happened to the British explorer Percy Fawcett and his quest for the Lost City of Z?

In 1925 Fawcett ventured into the Amazon to find an ancient civilization, hoping to make one of the most important discoveries in history. For centuries Europeans believed the world’s largest jungle concealed the glittering kingdom of El Dorado. Thousands had died looking for it, leaving many scientists convinced that the Amazon was truly inimical to humankind. But Fawcett, whose daring expeditions helped inspire Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, had spent years building his scientific case. Captivating the imagination of millions around the globe, Fawcett embarked with his twenty-one-year-old son, determined to prove that this ancient civilization—which he dubbed “Z”—existed. Then he and his expedition vanished.

Fawcett’s fate—and the tantalizing clues he left behind about “Z”—became an obsession for hundreds who followed him into the uncharted wilderness. For decades scientists and adventurers have searched for evidence of Fawcett’s party and the lost City of Z. Countless have perished, been captured by tribes, or gone mad. As David Grann delved ever deeper into the mystery surrounding Fawcett’s quest, and the greater mystery of what lies within the Amazon, he found himself, like the generations who preceded him, being irresistibly drawn into the jungle’s “green hell.” His quest for the truth and his stunning discoveries about Fawcett’s fate and “Z” form the heart of this complex, enthralling narrative.

My thoughts:

While this section of the book continues to chronicle the adventures of Fawcett in the Amazon, it also gives a glimpse into his life as a husband, father, and friend, which makes him seem much less a mythical hero, and much more a highly unique but definitely fallible human. We see him leaving his wife for years on end to pursue his dreams, never allowing her the privilege of joining him in the jungle. She clearly believed in the equality of the sexes, but it seems her husband the fearless adventurer was not quite ready to embrace that belief. He also had a strong sense of favoritism for Jack, his oldest son, who was athletic and strong. His younger son, Brian, felt that favoritism keenly, and suffered for it when Fawcett decided to take Jack on his mission to find the Lost City and leave Brian behind. I honestly can't imagine being his wife and kids, left alone for years at a time, never knowing if he would come home. I don't think I could ever make peace with that life.

We also see Fawcett start to formulate his ideas about the Lost City, and make his first (unsuccessful) attempt at finding it. I find myself reading with horror as the author describes the conditions of the explorers - near starvation, covered in parasitic insects, hallucinatory and diseased. I think the people who go on Survivor are crazy - this seems like complete madness. Why would you go through that kind of horrible experience, and then keep going back? I cannot relate in the slightest to this mindset, but I certainly find it fascinating.

Meanwhile, the author is preparing to make his own voyage into the Amazon, to see if he can uncover the whereabouts of Fawcett's lost excursion. As he is leaving, his wife says to him, "Don't be stupid." THAT made me snort my hot cocoa. Because there is so much about this crazy idea that is smart. But it makes for great reading, and I can't wait to see how the two stories converge.

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