The book is dedicated to the British traveler, explorer and archaeologist Percy Fawcett In 1925, he embarked on a journey with his son to South America, in the Amazon jungles, in search of a legendary ancient town. Only 57 years old, Colonel Fawcett disappeared without a trace. Trying to find it, many adventurers die or return empty-handed. David Grahn tells us this amazing story - travelogue, biography and detective investigation at once, as he chronicles his own journey through the deadly jungles. The question is: is the lost city of Z myth or reality?
Born in 1967, David Grann is an American journalist and best-selling author. He works for The New Yorker, but has published in a number of newspapers and magazines such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. His debut book, The Lost City of Z, became a 1 New York Times bestseller, was translated into more than 25 languages, and was nominated for a Samuel Johnson Award. Director James Gray's film of the same name is an irresistible adventure starring Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Ian McDermid and Sienna Miller and will be screened at Cinelibre 2017.
WE ARE IMPRESSED that every hike has a romantic origin. But even now I can't find one for mine.
Let me be clear: I am not an explorer, nor an adventurer. I don't climb mountains, I don't hunt. I don't even like camping. I'm five foot seven, approaching forty, with bangs around my waist, and my black hair is thinning. I suffer from keratoconus, a degenerative eye disease that makes it difficult for me to see at night. My sense of direction is gone, I keep forgetting exactly where I am on the subway and regularly miss my station in Brooklyn. I like newspapers, takeout, the sports bulletin (recorded on TiVo) and the air conditioner on full blast. In the daily choice of whether to climb the two flights of stairs to my apartment or use the elevator, I invariably choose the elevator.
But when I work on material, things are different. Ever since I was a kid, I've been drawn to stories of adventure and mystery, the kind that Ryder Haggard said "grabs you." The first ones I remember being told were about my grandfather Monya. He was over seventy at the time and suffering from Parkinson's disease; sat shivering on our porch in Westport, Connecticut, staring blankly at the horizon. Meanwhile, my grandmother was reminiscing about his experiences. He told me he was a Russian furrier and a freelance photographer for National Geographic. In the 1920s, it was one of the few Western operators allowed in various areas of China and Tibet. (Some relatives suspected he was a spy, though we never found proof to support that theory.) My grandmother remembered how, shortly before their wedding, Monya went to India to buy expensive furs. Weeks passed, and there was no word from him, not a word. Finally, a crumpled envelope arrived in the mail. There was only one blurry picture inside: Monya, lying tortured and pale under a mosquito net, suffering from malaria. He eventually came back, but since he hadn't recovered yet, the wedding took place in the hospital.
– Then I realized that it was hard for me to write – said grandmother.
She told me how Monya became a professional motorcycle racer and when I looked at her skeptically, she took out a handkerchief, unfolded it and showed me one of his gold medals. Once in Afghanistan, where he went to pick skins, he was traveling on a motorcycle through the Khyber Pass, and a friend of his was riding in the sidecar, and suddenly the brakes failed.
– While the bike was flying out of control, your grandfather was saying goodbye to his friend – Grandma recalled. - Then Monya saw workers ahead who were repairing the road. There was a large pile of dirt near them and he headed straight for it. Your grandfather and his friend flew into the dirt. Suffered from the occasional broken bone, nothing worse. It is known, this did not stop your grandfather from riding a motorcycle at all.
For me, the most amazing thing about these adventures was the figure at their center. I had only known my grandfather as an old man who could barely walk. The more my grandmother told me about him, the thirstier I became for details to help me understand him. But there was an element about him that eluded even Grandma.
– Monya was like that – he said something simple and waved his hand.
When I became a reporter, I was drawn to stories that "grab them". In the 1960s, I worked as a congressional correspondent, but I was always drawn to researching material on crooks, mobsters, and spies. And while most of my articles seem unrelated, they typically have a unifying motif: obsession. They're about ordinary people driven to extraordinary acts-ones most of us would never dare to do-where an idea gets inside their heads like a virus and metastasizes until it consumes them whole.
I have always considered that my interest in such people is purely professional – their fate makes excellent material. But sometimes I wonder if I have more in common with them than I admit. Reporting requires endless digging into more and more details in an attempt to uncover some hidden truth. Much to my wife's chagrin, when I work on material I become blind to everything else. I forget to pay the bills and shave. I don't change my clothes as often as I should. I even take unusual risks for me: crawling in tunnels dozens of meters under the streets of Manhattan with the tunnel diggers, or sailing on a skiff with a hunter of giant cuttlefish during a raging storm. After I came back from my sea trip, my mother said:
– You know, you remind me of your grandfather.
In 2004, while investigating the mysterious death of a Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes expert, I came across Fawcett's role as the inspiration for The Lost World. The more I read about him, the more intrigued I became by the fantastic idea of Z: that an advanced civilization with monumental architecture could have existed in the Amazon jungle. I suspect that I was like most people with their ideas of the Amazon Valley - scattered tribes living in the Stone Age stage - and this impression came not only from adventure novels and Hollywood films, but also from the works of scientists.
Environmentalists often describe the Amazon Valley as a "virgin forest" that, until recent incursions by loggers and poachers, was unsullied by human intervention. Moreover, many archaeologists and geographers argue that the conditions in the Amazon jungle, like those in the Arctic, made it impossible to develop the large populations necessary for a complex society with a division of labor and a political hierarchy like a kingdom. Betty Meggers of the Smithsonian Institution is perhaps the most influential contemporary archaeologist specializing in the Amazon Valley. In 1971, she became famous for her summary of the region, calling it a "false paradise", a place that, with all its fauna and flora, is hostile to human life. Rains and floods, as well as the relentless sun, suck vital nutrients from the soil and make large-scale farming impossible. She and other scientists argue that only small tribes of nomads can survive in such brutal conditions. Because the land offers very limited sustenance, Meggers writes, even when tribes manage to escape extinction through starvation and disease, they are still forced to find "cultural substitutes" to control their population-including slaughtering their own members. Some tribes kill newborns, abandon the sick in the forests, or indulge in blood feuds and wars. In the 1970s, Claudio Villas Boas, one of the great defenders of the Amazon Indians, told a reporter: "This is a jungle, and to kill a crippled child, to abandon a man without a family, may be imperative for the survival of the tribe."Only now, when the jungle disappears and the laws? lose their meaning, we are shocked".
As Charles Mann notes in his book "The Year 1491", anthropologist Alan R. Holmberg helped to impose an opinion among the scientific community and the general public about the Amazonian Indians as primitives. After studying members of the Siriono tribe in Bolivia in early 1940s, Holmberg describes them as "one of the most culturally backward people in the world," a society so absorbed in procuring food that it had not developed arts, religion, clothing, domestication of animals, provision of permanent shelter, trade, roads, or even the ability to count beyond three. "There is no time reckoning," Holmberg points out, "nor is there any semblance of a calendar." Sirono didn't even have the "concept of romantic love". Billy, he concluded, "people in a raw state." According to Meggers, a more advanced civilization from the Andes migrated to Marajo Island at the mouth of the Amazon, but gradually disappeared. In short, the Amazon was a death trap for civilizations.
While researching Z, I discovered that a group of revisionist anthropologists and archaeologists increasingly began to object to such views and believed that an advanced civilization could have existed in the Amazon Valley. In essence, they argue that traditionalists have underestimated the power of cultures and societies to transform the natural environment in the same way that we humans set up space stations and grow crops in the Israeli desert. Some have pointed out that traditionalist ideas still carry faint vestiges of the racist view of American Indians that gave rise to earlier and ill-formed theories that preceded that of environmental determinism. The traditionalists, in turn, attack the revisionists for taking political correctness to absurd extremes, and that they have long projected onto the Amazon Valley an imaginary landscape, a figment of Western fantasy. At stake in this debate is a fundamental understanding of human nature and of the ancient world, so the scholars are at vicious enmity with each other. When I called Meggers at the Smithsonian Institution, she flatly dismissed the possibility that anyone had discovered a lost civilization in the Amazon Valley. He suggested that too many archaeologists are "still running around looking for Eldorado".
An authoritative archaeologist from the University of Florida specifically challenges the conventional understanding of Amazonia as a "fictional paradise." His name is Michael Hackenberger and he works in the Shingu area where Fawcett is supposed to have disappeared. Several anthropologists told me that he was the one I should talk to, but warned me that he rarely came out of the jungle and avoided anything that distracted him from his work. James Peterson, who chaired the anthropology department at the University of Vermont in 2005 and taught Hackenberger, told me, “Mike is absolutely brilliant and at the forefront of scientists exploring the Amazon Valley, but I'm afraid you've got the address wrong with him. You see, he was my best man at my wedding, and I can't get him to respond to my attempts at communication."
With the help of the University of Florida, I was finally able to reach Hackenberger on his satellite phone. Through the crackle of static electricity and the background noise of the jungle, he said he would be staying at the Kuikuro village near Shingu, and to my surprise he was willing to meet me if I could make it there. It wasn't until later when I pieced together more of the Z story that I realized this was the exact location where James Lynch and his men were kidnapped.
– Going to the Amazon Valley in an attempt to find someone who disappeared two hundred years ago? – asked my wife Kira in disbelief.
It was a January evening in 2005, and she was serving cold sesame noodles from Hunan Delight Chinese Restaurant in the kitchen.
– It was only eighty years ago.
– So what, you're going to look for someone who disappeared eighty years ago?
– That's basically the idea.
– And how would you even know where to look?
– I haven't cleared this up yet.
My wife, who is a producer on the news show 60 Minutes and is a remarkably sane person, set the plates on the table and waited for me to explain. “It's not like I'm the first to leave,” I added. “Hundreds others have done it.
– And what happened to them?
I took a bite of the noodles and hesitated.
– Many of them have disappeared.
She stared at me for a long moment.
– I hope you know what you're doing.
I assured her that I would not rush to Shingu on the run, not before I had specified where to start my route. Most recent expeditions had relied on the coordinates of Dead Horse Camp contained in Fawcett's Explorations, but given the Colonel's elaborate maneuvers to conceal himself, it seemed odd that the camp could be found so easily. It is true that Fawcett had kept scrupulous records of his expeditions, but his most important documents were either lost or kept from his family. However, some of his correspondence, as well as diaries of members of his expeditions, had found their way into the British archives. So, before diving into the jungle, I headed for England to see if I could uncover anything more about Fawcett's jealously guarded route and the man himself, who in 1925 seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth..