Jungleland by Christopher S. Stewart, narrated by Jef Brick
Published in audio by Harper Audio, published in print by Harper Books, both imprints of HarperCollins
From the publisher:
On April 6, 1940, explorer and future World War II spy Theodore Morde (who would one day attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler), anxious about the perilous journey that lay ahead of him, struggled to fall asleep at the Paris Hotel in La Ceiba, Honduras.
Nearly seventy years later, in the same hotel, acclaimed journalist Christopher S. Stewart wonders what he’s gotten himself into. Stewart and Morde seek the same answer on their quests: the solution to the riddle of the whereabouts of Ciudad Blanca, buried somewhere deep in the rain forest on the Mosquito Coast. Imagining an immense and immaculate El Dorado–like city made entirely of gold, explorers as far back as the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés have tried to find the fabled White City. Others have gone looking for tall white cliffs and gigantic stone temples—no one found a trace.
Legends, like the jungle, are dense and captivating. Many have sought their fortune or fame down the Río Patuca—from Christopher Columbus to present-day college professors—and many have died or disappeared. What begins as a passing interest slowly turns into an obsession as Stewart pieces together the whirlwind life and mysterious death of Morde, a man who had sailed around the world five times before he was thirty and claimed to have discovered what he called the Lost City of the Monkey God.
Armed with Morde’s personal notebooks and the enigmatic coordinates etched on his well-worn walking stick, Stewart sets out to test the jungle himself—and to test himself in the jungle. As we follow the parallel journeys of Morde and Stewart, the ultimate destination morphs with their every twist and turn. Are they walking in circles? Or are they running from their own shadows? Jungleland is part detective story, part classic tale of man versus wild in the tradition of The Lost City of Z and Lost in Shangri-La. A story of young fatherhood as well as the timeless call of adventure, this is an epic search for answers in a place where nothing is guaranteed, least of all survival.
Thoughts on the story:
I’m not always keen on authors inserting themselves into stories, but Stewart’s combination memoir/history is extremely effective. I’m not sure that either his own story or Morde’s would have been enough to fully interest me, but combined they definitely kept me listening. Morde’s story provides the background, as well as some interesting spy games – including a plot to assassinate Hitler. Stewart’s story provides the heart, the human interest. I mean, this guy misses his daughter’s fourth birthday to gallivant around the jungle! It is his drive and his need to find the lost city that keeps the reader going, and then Morde’s story that provides the color and interest enough to break things up.
Thoughts on the audio production:
Jef Brick does a really great job, I generally had no problem discerning whether we were listening to Stewart’s story or Morde’s. There was one odd moment where I wondered whether I had been confused and there had really been two narrators the whole time because he sounded so different for one of Morde’s sections, but that seems to have been an odd bit of stray editing, or a different recording venue, or perhaps a trick of my ears and not an issue with Brick’s narration.
I found Jungleland to be a nice change of pace and an enjoyable audiobook. I think I would have liked the print, but am fairly certain that I enjoyed it more in audio than I would have in print. Recommended.
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