Book Jones Books

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Journey In Search of a Quest for an Adventure

A Review of Jungleland: A Mysterious Lost City, a WWII Spy, and a True Story of Deadly Adventure by Christopher S. Stewart*


Half chronicle of the 1940's era explorer-cum-spy, Theodore Morde, half personal quest, Christopher S. Stewart's Jungleland guides the reader on a trek through the vast Honduran jungle in search of the steadily disappearing past: an El Dorado of Meso-America the locals call Cuidad Blanco or the White City. This is the Brooklyn native's second book of historical journalism, his first being an expose of the powerful Serbian gangster, "Arkan" Raznatovic, called Hunting the Tiger. But with Jungleland, amid the tale of the adventurer Morde, which takes place pre-Pearl Harbor, Stewart inserts his own personal odyssey for what...fame? glory? wealth? or is it for what is truly important in one's life?

Inspired by the fascinating story of Theodore Morde and God knows what else (perhaps a book deadline) Stewart tells his family, a wife and four year old daughter, that he will be leaving them for a month or two in order to write this book about some mythical city in the jungle. Would you be surprised if I told you his wife was more than a bit discouraging. Stewart has his doubts, especially when he reads about the on-going coup taking place in Honduras; The president Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales, AKA Mel, was seized from from the presidential palace in Tegulcigalpa, and flown to Costa Rica and a man known as Roberto Michetti was sworn in as president, albeit illegally. It was later rumored that Mel had escaped, gathered supporters and was marching back to retake the capital. In light of all this, Stewart's wife protests:
"'It's turning to war.' 
'It probably won't,' I said

'But you're still going?'

"The flights are still going," I said...
'That doesn't mean you should go.'
...A day later I read on line that the police had started shooting civilians."
As the author relates the details of his jungle maneuvers, he parallels the exploits of Morde according to the adventurer's own diary. Although Stewart enlists the aid of an experienced archaeologist, Chris Begley, and two other local guides, the trip is fraught with danger. Between deadly snakes (notably the fer de lance, the bite of which can cause bleeding from all pores and orifices) , bandits, fire ants, pirates, and the very jungle itself, he and his companions do not have an easy go of it. Nor did Morde. Whereas the '40s expedition progressed mostly by water (gulf and river), the present century's transpires by air, auto, and on foot. Stewart, et. al., take a vastly different route, but the twin expeditions finally intersect at the site where Morde had written "No white man had been before", Camp Ulak: the base from which they searched daily for signs of the "White City".

As a history of the peregrinations and subsequent spy career of Theodore Morde, this slim volume falls a bit short, but if read as a personal and ultimately metaphysical quest of the author's, Jungleland succeeds chiefly because it incorporates the analogous history. The journals of Morde's journey and the story of the rest of his remarkable life provide an essential reference, an indelible connection to the past for the writer; and for the reader. I won't say whether or not Stewart's expedition discovers the site of the fabled lost city, but I can safely, and without giving much away, report that they do find what they were searching for, whether they know it or not.

3.5 Stars 

*this is a review of the uncorrected proof of this future publication slated to be released in early 2013


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