By Don George

March 2008

Book of the Month: 
The Lost City,
by Henry Shukman

For a certain kind of traveler, the Indiana Jones fantasy is irresistible: You machete through tangled jungle vines and stumble upon an overgrown passageway; plunging through clawing underbrush, you emerge to see an intact stone city of elaborate temples and plazas. Truth supports the fantasy: Many explorers are convinced that South and Central America's jungles contain ancient cities. More Machu Picchus and Tikals await.

The Lost City, Henry Shukman's powerful new novel, is founded on this tantalizing premise. Jackson Small, the protagonist, became interested in South American ruins when based with the British army in Belize. His passion was fanned on forays with his closest comrade, Connelly, who was subsequently killed in a skirmish with guerillas. Connelly claimed to have glimpsed a vast, ruined city in a little-explored region of the Peruvian highlands, and after leaving the army, Small vows to find the lost city.

On the way, he encounters bandits, bureaucrats, revolutionaries, a kindly cleric, a hippie expat, corrupt officials, and a drug lord who reigns over the area where the lost city is reputed to be. He also falls in love with an enchanting and almost equally intrepid American graduate student, and befriends a mysterious highlands boy, both of whom become his companions.

Shukman convincingly portrays the humid, coastal backwater where Small's odyssey begins to take shape, but the book really soars when he journeys into the tumbledown Peruvian mountain towns, with their market stalls, dusty plazas, and terracotta roofs—and it reaches an epiphanic intensity when Small ventures into the cloud forest and stumbles on his own lost city, with unanticipated consequences.

Braiding power, commerce, archaeology, and tourism with threads of adventure and romance, Shukman weaves a compelling narrative. But his greatest triumph is rendering an almost impossibly remote region so present and palpable. With poetic precision, Shukman conjures the cloud forest to life, so that even now, long after putting the book down, I still wander among the creepers, condors, and gray ossified mists of highland Peru.

Short List: New & Noteworthy

Traversa, average joe Fran Sandham's memoir of leaving his bookstore job in London and walking 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometers) overland from Namibia's Skeleton Coast to Zanzibar, on the Indian Ocean.

Vienna Blood, a thriller by Frank Tallis that follows the search for a serial killer in 1902 Vienna, a city buzzing with the works of Freud, Klimt, and Mahler but also dealing with the rise of Nazism.

The Temple of the Wild Geese/Bamboo Dolls of Echizen, a pair of atmospheric novellas from bestselling Japanese author Tsutomu Mizukami (1919-2004), the former set in a Kyoto temple, the latter in a poor village in Fukui Prefecture.

New Book Roundup

Lovers of London will enjoy the archival photos that document the growth of England's capital in Building London: The Making of a Modern Metropolis, by Bruce Marshall. Turn to page 63 for a photo of the unassuming, original Harrods store, which "grew out over the gardens of Knightsbridge townhouses where the [Harrod] family lived." The latest in Rizzoli's One Hundred & One Towns series,One Hundred & One Beautiful Small Towns in Mexico, by Guillermo García-Oropeza, may have a ponderous title but its contents—ranging from expat favorite San Miguel de Allende to silver capital Taxco—are pure eye candy.

South American Sojourns
The true story of former Iowa housewife Sharon Matola's crusade to save the nesting grounds of Belize's last scarlet macaws from developers makes for gripping reading in The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw, by Bruce Barcott. Lucas Bridges's classic chronicle of Tierra del FuegoUttermost Part of the Earth, first published in 1948, gets reissued for a new generation of South American adventurers, with an introduction by research scientist Natalie Goodall, a specialist on Argentinean flora and fauna.

Reading Matchmaker: If You Like...

...Gabriel García Márquez, check out Wolves of the Crescent Moon, by Yousef Al-Mohaimeed. The Arab novelist's lyrical style and myth-inspired imagery have been compared to that of the Nobel Prize-winning Colombian author (One Hundred Years of Solitude, Love in the Time of Cholera). Banned in his native Saudi Arabia, Wolves of the Crescent Moon is Al-Mohaimeed's first book to be published outside the Middle East and interweaves the stories of three underclass outsiders in Riyadh: a Bedouin ex-bandit, a Sudanese eunuch, and a one-eyed orphan. It's a fascinating book that provides rare insight into the drastic changes that have transformed this desert kingdom in just half a century.

One Last Thing: The Original Odyssey

The Odyssey is a seminal work of Western civilization. Even if you've never read Homer's epic, you're probably familiar with the blinding of the Cyclops, the temptations of the lotus-eaters, the Sirens, the Trojan Horse. In his engaging new book, No-Man's Lands: One Man's Odyssey Through The Odyssey, Scott Huler retraces Odysseus's route. Huler's odyssey takes him from Troy to Ithaca via TunisiaSicilyMalta, Corsica, Corfu, and other Mediterranean stops. Whether he's reconstructing history in Troy or paddling a rented kayak among ferries and container ships in the strait between Charybdis and Scylla, Huler is an intrepid, knowledgeable, and companionable guide.

Don George has won numerous awards for his work as a travel writer and editor. He is the author of Travel Writing and the editor of eight literary travel anthologies, including Lights, Camera…Travel!, A Moveable Feast, and The Kindness of Strangers. E-mail Don at dgeorge@ngs.org.

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