Saturday, April 18, 2009

Recent Reads

The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann

British explorer Percy Fawcett is largely forgotten today, but back in the mid 1920's he was an famous explorer in South America, navigating the Amazon basin in search of his own El Dorado, an unknown civilization he called Z. This book recounts his career as an explorer making several trips to this area, culminating in the disappearance of Fawcett, his son and family friend during an expedition. No trace of Fawcett was ever found despite several attempts to unravel the mystery. Grann mixes two narratives in his book, recounting Fawcett's career as a military man and then explorer, mixing the professional with the personal accounts of relatives and friends. He also describes his own research and growing obsession in the Fawcett case, which leads him around the world and eventually to walk in Fawcett's footsteps in the Amazonian jungle. This was an interesting story - you can see how the true story of Fawcett must have been an inspiration to the pulp and comic stories and films like the Indiana Jones series.
The Lost City of Z -

Mr. Clarinet by Nick Stone

Private Detective Max Mingus is released from prison after killing three perpetrators of a vicious crime. Upon release, he is hired by a wealthy Haitian family to probe the disappearance of their young son. Mingus travels to Haiti to attempt to separate truth from legend and fiction, like the legend of Mr. Clarinet who is stealing children from their homes. This is Stone's first novel, the precursor to the extraordinary novel King of Swords, and you can tell that Stone was working the kinks out in this earlier story as there are a few dead ends and loose threads here. Still, this is an excellent detective story, filled with voodoo priests, vicious criminals and characters searching for redemption.
Mr. Clarinet -

In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami

This extraordinary story, might just be the most disturbing book I have ever read. Not just for violence, although there are some extremely graphic scenes of bloodshed, but it is the unflinching examination of loneliness and life and what it means to be alive in Japan and the United States. Kenji is a tour guide in Tokyo, specializing in showing visiting tourists the ins and outs of Tokyo's sex scene. He is contacted by Frank, who he thinks at first is merely another American tourist looking for action. He soon finds out that Frank is much, much more. There is one act of horrific violence in the middle of the story that everything else pivots around, but the sense of emptiness, loneliness and unease that leads up to it is so genuine and creepy, and the examination of banality, fear and self-worth that follows the penultimate scene is just extraordinary and deeply affecting. If you have the stomach for it, I can't recommend this book highly enough, it's mix of existential horror and noir crime is like nothing else I have ever read.
In the Miso Soup -

Send comments to: Tim