I was first attracted to “The Lost City of Z” when I saw a preview for the film starring Charlie Hunnam. I “Googled” the film later and discovered it was a book, so I obviously had to read it before I watched the movie. It definitely sated the armchair explorer in me with the caveat that the ending was not what I wanted it to be.
“The Lost City of Z” tells the story of Percy Fawcett who mysteriously disappeared in 1925 on an expedition through the Amazon with his son, Jack Fawcett, and his son’s friend, Raleigh Rimell. Percy believed that the indigenous tribes within the Amazon had once had a huge interconnected city with a thriving culture, which is something that no one had seen before. There were notes from Spanish conquistadors telling of cities like what Percy believed in, but no one thus far had found the ruins of one. So Percy’s obsession with Z was born.
For his time, Percy was surprisingly forward thinking. Many people believed that the natives were savages who were too vicious to have created any kind of culture. Percy knew better. He had been an explorer for much of his life, and he knew that many of the “savages” were more civilized than anyone gave them credit for. That being said, mysterious disappearances in the Amazon were not unheard of. Several explorers took parties into the rainforest only to be killed off by diseases, starvation or the tribesmen. What makes Percy’s story unique is that, after his disappearance, people flocked to the Amazon to try to find out what happened to Percy. And many people lost their lives looking for him.
Enter David Grann. Grann become enamored with Percy’s story and set out to recreate what happened. The novel is told in the alternating points of view of Percy’s life and Grann’s preparation and subsequent expedition into the jungle.
Grann’s ability to recreate who Percy was is remarkable. In many of these stories, the author does a decent job of recreating a person, but you still feel like something is missing. Grann doesn’t leave anything to the imagination. You know who Percy is; you know what he’s going to do before Grann tells you; and you’re not surprised by what he does.
Like all tales of this nature, there’s an abundance of information about Percy, about the Amazon, and about the time period. There has to be in order for the reader to understand what motivates Percy and to understand the gravity of the situations he puts himself in. It doesn’t detract from the story, but if you’re not interesting in learning something, avoid this book.
Now the ending. I won’t give too much away. I will say you do get answers, but they don’t necessarily answer the questions you asked. This is through no fault of Grann’s. There are just some things that people are just not destined to ever know.
Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone who is curious about the Amazon or just loves a good adventure tale. And seriously, read the book before you watch the movie. Don’t be that guy.