Summary and book reviews of The Lost City by Henry Shukman

The Lost City

By Henry Shukman

The Lost City
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2008,
    336 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2009,
    336 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker

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Book Summary

Henry Shukman’s debut fiction collection, Mortimer of the Maghreb, was acclaimed as “fearless, brilliantly realized, [and] richly rewarding” (Los Angeles Times Book Review). Now, in his first novel, he tells the story of a British expat searching for treasure and, more important, for connection, amid the seductions and dangers of a rootless life.

Jackson Small has just been discharged from the British military after witnessing the violent battlefield death of his closest friend, Connolly. It was Connolly who introduced him to the fascinations of ancient civilizations, enticing him with stories of La Joya, the capital of a vanished Peruvian empire. Coping with his grief, Jackson sets off in search of La Joya, hidden in the cloud forest hanging between the Andes and Amazonia.

It’s an arduous journey: through desert, arid mountains, inhospitable villages, and impenetrable jungle. And though he finds unexpected help—from a young boy as wily as he is innocent, from an irreverent village priest, and from a woman who both redefines and fulfills all of Jackson’s expectations—he’s also warned at every turn to abandon his search for a place that may not even exist. But he lets nothing stop him from entering the depths of the forest believed to protect the ruins of the lost city—where he will encounter other seekers whose methods are far more sinister than his own

With its starkly lyrical voice, its headlong pace, and the romanticism of the quest that fuels it, The Lost City is at once suspenseful, continually unexpected, and thoroughly mesmerizing.

Caballo Muerto: Chapter One

This wasn't a country you would visit unless you had to, if you were born there, say, or were sent in to check up on some account. I mean country in the broad Hemingway sense: terrain, land, country. The mountains rising ghostly and huge on one side, the strangely cold ocean on the other, and in between a strip of desert so barren not even cactuses grew. Half the year a blanket of low cloud covered the desert, the infamous garua, shouldered off the back of the Humboldt Current which came up glacial from Antarctica. The other half, blazing equatorial sun fired all things into immobility—the piles of gravel and sand by the never-improved highway, rubbish at the roadside, mummified dogs, old men waiting, waiting. It was too hot to move. It was enough to get through the day. To reach six p.m., when the red balloon of the sun regularly settled on the rim of the Pacific, felt like an achievement, a deliverance.

For six months the unrelenting fog hung a ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

The strength of Shukman's work is the description of the scenery. The Lost City works best when Jackson is alone in the forest and desert, the delicate descriptions of cloud and fog, and the elegant illustrations of ancient cities shrouded in vines are beautiful and evocative. Shukman's pacing and gift for language are well showcased.

The Lost City is a great adventure story, but the promise of the grand exposé, with complex character development to follow, is unfulfilled. However, Jackson's development from disoriented sad youth to a man with a life plan, although predictable, is nice to read.   (Reviewed by Sarah Sacha Dollacker).

Full Review Members Only (869 words).

Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

Shukman takes narrative risks, but has yet to find his voice.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Shukman's forbidding landscapes and fearsome jungle labyrinths are as striking as his characters, cranking up the intensity of a cinematic page-turner

The Guardian - John Burnside

[T]hroughout The Lost City it is the land itself - from the grey deserts of Caballo Muerto to the buried city's labyrinth of fetid tunnels and terrifying carved beasts - that sets the terms of the novel's inquiry. Meanwhile, at the centre of this nightmare world, Shukman creates, in Jackson Small, a character so hopelessly vulnerable to his surroundings, and so desperately in need of redemption, that we want to pray for his safe passage as he pursues a penitent's journey across a forbidding landscape that is not only brilliantly evoked, but is also a moral and philosophical entity in itself.

The Independent (UK)

But what's perhaps most impressive here is the way that - without being at all crude or explicit or schematic about it - Shukman seems able to make everything symbolise something larger than itself. Every character embodies a whole philosophy and way of life. The lost city of La Joya (which is like a character in its own right, biding its time until its entrance) acts as a prism for Jackson's feelings about his own past, and the past in general.

Daily Mail (UK)

Shukman skilfully blends his genres: political intrigue, drug lords and South American militia edge this novel towards a contemporary Boy's Own adventure in the style of Buchan or Rider Haggard, while the poetic prose harks back to Conrad's Heart of Darkness ... A powerful debut.

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Beyond the Book

The Chacapoyas

Jackson's search for La Joya (pronounced la hoi-ya) is a search any of us could embark on, but we might find it more expedient to visit one of the easier to locate Chachapoya sites. The Chachapoyas, the Warriors of the Clouds, lived in the Andes in what  is now Northern Peru - and La Joya, one of many ruined Chachapoyan cities, can be visited today along with other ancient sites (map of the region). It is believed that the Chachapoyas tribe lived in the region from about the 9th-10th century. They were conquered by the Incas in the 16th century who gave them the name 'chachapoyas'; their original name is unknown.
...

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