A gripping real-life adventure story, The Lost City of Z is about the British explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett, who vanished, like many adventurers before him, deep in the Amazon jungle while on the quest to find a fabulous ancient city. Other people then went in search of him and vanished too.
I don’t remember hearing about Percy Fawcett before, but he’s very famous. His disappearance is one of those fascinating unsolved mysteries which excites the public interest. His last quest, after many successful ones charting the wilderness of South America, was in 1925. He travelled with his son and a friend, braving the many hazards of the Amazon in the belief that a hidden city, El Dorado or (as Fawcett termed it) Z, was waiting to be rediscovered. Pretty much everything in the Amazon is out to get you, but Fawcett was tougher than most explorers. The story of Fawcett is alternated with journalist David Grann’s own quest. This results in a mix of history and travel writing.
The indigenous tribes of the Amazon jungle feature prominently in the book (they are called Indians throughout – I’m not sure whether this is politically correct any more). It was very sad to read about the way they have been abused by colonisers and enslaved by corporations. No wonder that many of the tribes were hostile by the time Fawcett needed their friendship in order to travel through their territories. The fate of Fawcett’s expedition is a mystery, due to the lack of evidence, but the most likely scenario is an attack by one of the more violent tribes. Fawcett’s wife and tireless supporter, Nina, believed for the rest of her life that her husband and her eldest son were still out there in the jungle and would one day return.
Recommended if you want some adventure in your reading, but be aware that there are descriptions of really horrible diseases and parasites…
First published in 2009. Adapted into a film, which I will feature in a ‘film of the book’ post.