Charles Elliott on Paul Fleming, Brazilian Adventure - Slightly Foxed Issue 14

Major Problems

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I’ve never been to Brazil, and to tell the truth I’m not much interested in going. Even reading about South America doesn’t thrill me. I’m not sure why this should be since I found Central America fascinating, and I’m happy to read anything going about the Maya, but Brazil is one of those blank spots in my personal sphere of curiosity.

On the face of it, Peter Fleming’s Brazilian Adventure offers no strong argument – in fact no argument of any kind – for correcting my prejudice. I have no doubt that Fleming would have been horrified at any suggestion that it did. On the evidence presented, he considers Brazil a place to be avoided, not merely because it isn’t interesting but because it’s painfully boring, dangerous, corrupt and generally unhealthy. But of course that’s the point.

Brazilian Adventure is one of the best examples ever written of a type of book that could be described as a saga of deliberate suffering – discomfort, anyway – recounted with dry wit and verbal elegance. Fleming himself is responsible for a couple of others nearly as good (One’s Company and News from Tartary), while a more recent candidate might be Redmond O’Hanlon’s Into the Heart of Borneo, although in my opinion it can’t match Fleming.

It was in the spring of 1932 that he came upon a note in the Agony Column of The Times soliciting membership (‘room two more guns’) in an ‘exploring and sporting expedition’ heading for the Matto Grosso. ‘Exploring and sporting’ were only part of the draw, however. A further, if improbably romantic, aim was to discover what had happened to Colonel Fawcett. This gentleman, an odd, obsessed fortune-hunter, had gone into the Brazilian jungle several years before in search of an enormously rich lost city and was never heard from again. Exactly what happened to him was a mystery. A relief expedition drew a blank, but there was no lack of speculati

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About the contributor

Charles Elliott is an editor (see Slightly Foxed, No. 9) and writer. Though he enjoys reading about extreme travel, his own subject is less life-threatening: gardening and garden history. More Papers from the Potting Shed, his latest book, was published last year.

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