Wednesday, December 16, 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, and my second post 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 final thoughts:

This third and final portion of the book really felt like it became the author's story. Fawcett and his son have started out on their great mission to find the Lost City - and disappear. Fawcett's wife basically devotes the remainder of her life to talking people into searching for him, which eventually becomes quite sad. Not only does she refuse to consider that he might be dead, she lures a number of other explorers to their deaths in the jungle, searching for her lost husband. I said last week that I don't think I could have endured being the wife of an explorer like Fawcett - this just reinforced that in my mind. She literally spent her entire life trying to support her family on a pittance, and talking people - including herself - into believing he wasn't dead. She was consigned to wait for him for their whole marriage. Her own aspirations were never taken into account. I found her story much more tragic that Fawcett's - at least he got to live out his grand adventures. She was only allowed to imagine them.

The author himself finally makes it to the jungle, only to have everyone who hears about his journey basically call him crazy. He does find a guide to take him to the place where Fawcett was last seen, and talks to several members of the Kalapalo tribe, including one who was alive when Fawcett was last seen. All the stories seem to agree that Fawcett and his small party ventured into territory that the Kalapalo's warned him against entering, and was never seen again. Ironically, it appears Fawcett was nearly at the place he was searching - a vast civilization is being uncovered near the location Fawcett was trying to reach, that may be just exactly what he was looking for.

Grann's own journey was dangerous, although modern technology made it quite a bit less impossible than when Fawcett attempted the same travel. I admit to being a little disappointed that he was not able to find a conclusive end to Fawcett's story, but his decision to accept what he had learned and return home was, honestly, the only logical decision either one of these men made, as far as I am concerned.

I found this book to be completely compelling from start to finish. Grann weaves his dual narratives seamlessly together, and each story beautifully compliments the other. Fawcett is such a larger-than-life persona, almost mythological in nature, and yet Grann is able to prod beyond the surface to give readers a glimpse of the real man behind the myths. There are not many people in the world today with the same spirit of adventure and thirst for knowledge that Fawcett embodied, and reading about him was a fascinating experience.

I definitely recommend this book - it will appeal to a wide range of readers, and a little escape into the jungle might be just what you need to warm your chilly winter night!

Finished: 12/6/09
Source: the publisher - thank you!
Rating: 8/10

Don't just take my word for it! Here's what some other fabulous bloggers had to say:

At Home with Books

Trish's Reading Nook
A Lovely Shore Breeze

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