Monday, July 13, 2009

Review: The Lost City of Z

Even in a semi-distracted state, I blew through David Grann's creative nonfiction bestseller The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, a fascinating biography of British amateur explorer Percy Fawcett melded with Grann's own personal journey into the Amazon in search of answers for what happened to Fawcett, who disappeared with one of his sons and his son's friend in 1925, on his final quest for an ancient El Dorado in the rainforest.

Grann expanded a feature article in the New Yorker (which I somehow missed; must be somewhere in my backlog of still-to-be-read issues going back several years now) into a book built out of the historical record, Fawcett's detailed letters and journals, and Grann's own often comical travelogue. It's a great story, well told, and if the writing never ascends to the lyricism of the best travel and adventure narratives (like John Vaillant's The Golden Spruce or Jon Krakauer's Into the WIld), neither does it get lost in jungle-like verbiage or macho hyperbole. Grann writes in the lean (not "luminous"!), detail-thick, meticulously documented, and wry style of the magazine in which the story first appeared, and Fawcett—a single-minded explorer I knew next to nothing about—springs to life in this study of his flawed and fascinating character.

One of my favourite books of the year, for its propulsive narrative, compelling central character and a twist at the end that justifies the author's presence throughout the book.

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