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Travel Read: The Lost City of Z
Part memoir and part non-fiction, this book has several interesting layers -- the most important of which is the unsolved, mysterious disappearance of famous explorer, Percy Fawcett. Having led several expeditions in the Bolivian and Brazilian Amazons, Fawcett was dead-set on being the first to discover Z. Several of his expeditions ended in death, and when he disappeared in 1927, rescue expeditions to find his three-person team also met similar, dangerous fates.
Grann himself became so fascinated by the story that he -- a self-described urbanite -- journeyed from his comfortable Manhattan dwelling to the U.K. and then to the Amazons himself to set the story straight.
While at times I would have preferred to read a detailed story of Fawcett's expeditions (through Grann's well-researched notes from Fawcett's and expedition mates' journals and dispatches), Grann instead weaves a complicated but gripping tale of the events and relations that led to Fawcett's disappearance. The story is told from several points of view: from Grann himself as he embarks on his own quest, Fawcett via his journals, his son Frank (who was part of threesome that disappeared), and Fawcett's wife Nina to name a few. These various perspectives and voices help to clarify the real truth from the myth, but also keep readers bouncing between storylines. The two most important characters are Fawcett and Grann himself, but it might have been more fitting for Grann to tell Fawcett's story rather than his own.
The mythic proportions that became Fawcett's story, though, are tough to tie together in the end, and the end of Grann's book falls just a tad flat. Grann does solve the mystery behind Fawcett's disappearance, but after all the build-up and Fawcett tall tales (some of which involve Fawcett being nearly bulletproof and fighting off enormous anacondas), there's really no satisfying end to this story that will live up to Fawcett's reputation as one of the greatest explorers of our time.
David Grann has agreed to be interviewed within the next week for Gadling. If you have questions you'd like me to include in the Q & A with the author, add it in a comment to this article.