Join the HCSF Reading Group to discuss The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann
Sunday, April 14, 2024
4:30-6:00 pm PST
SF, Noe Valley, In-person
Meeting location and details will be emailed to registrants at least twice prior to the meeting.
HCSF Members Free, but RSVP required
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The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon
From The New Yorker staff writer and author of Killers of the Flower Moon comes a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction with all the pace and excitement of a movie thriller. Grann unravels the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century—the story of the legendary British explorer who ventured into the Amazon jungle in search of a fabled civilization and never returned. This book tells two stories: of the explorer chasing his mirage, and of the reporter chasing the explorer chasing his mirage — twin obsessions spun together like strands on a helix. Fawcett going here and there to raise money for his next escapade, Grann going after him, from Brooklyn to the Amazon, like going from Paris to the moon. “Let me be clear,” Grann writes. “I am not an explorer or an adventurer. I don’t climb mountains or hunt. I don’t even like to camp. I stand less than 5 feet 9 inches tall and am nearly 40 years old, with a blossoming waistline and thinning black hair.”
The book is screwball, in other words, a hybrid in which the weak, fear-wracked reporter from the present age confronts the crazed iron men of yore, citizens of a country as grand and gone as the kingdom of the Incas. The result is a powerful narrative, stiff lipped and Victorian at the center, trippy at the edges, as if one of those stern men of Conrad had found himself trapped in a novel by García Márquez. Along the way, Grann examines dozens of subjects that seem more and more mythical, suggesting a kind of magical nonfiction — the myth of the white Indian, for example, the fate of explorers who vanished searching for Fawcett, the habits of carnivorous fish, some which latch on to and live off the holiest, most tender of human organs. But in the end, the book is mostly about the jungle itself, the real and shrinking wilderness that can be traversed on Google maps, but also the wilderness as a metaphor that can be glimpsed but never charted — the world as it really is, where everything wants to infect you and even flowers want you dead. Which is why Fawcett, in his relentless drive into the bush, supposedly in pursuit of a goal but really going because going is the same as being alive, is a stand-in for all those who keep feeding themselves to the beast. This is what Grann means when he writes of his own magazine stories: “They typically have one common thread: obsession. They are about ordinary people driven to do extraordinary things — things that most of us would never dare — who get some germ of an idea in their heads that metastasizes until it consumes them.” (New York Times)