What we can learn from the Atlanteans
Review of The Lost City, by Jeronymo Monteiro
Salvio’s eyes widened. “Sky! The symbol, Jeremias! The symbol!”
“Yes!” I managed to exclaim, fascinated too. “The ‘stone’… The great circle over the triangle… the thousand-petalled lotus… the runes… the sun and moon!…”
And there the three of us stood, gaping, looking at the miraculous symbol that had brought us from São Paulo, now there perfectly reproduced in rock engraving, next to the monumental entrance. It was dizzying and dizzying. How many thousands of kilometers — of impassable kilometers! — those two symbols separated! One, in São Paulo, inside the old chest from the Guyanas or Venezuela, and the other here, in the center of the backwoods, almost on the border between Pará and Amazonas, next to a door that opened onto the mystery! So separate, and yet so united!
The Atlantean looked at us, smiling. “Do you know?” he asked.
“We know,” Salvio replied. “That’s what brought us here. It was the first revelation. A piece of iron grid that Jeremias’ uncle brought from the Guyanas, or from Venezuela, we don’t know.”
“Neither one nor the other. From Peru. From the great Temple of the Sun in Peru. The grid of the altar of sacrifices. Many years ago it was destroyed and shattered.”
It was a scrap of history that brought back great dark dramas.
Disappearing civilizations, lost temples in the jungle, adventurers in danger as they try to unravel ancient mysteries, wouldn’t that all make for a great Indiana Jones movie?
The Lost City (A Cidade Perdida in Portuguese) is a classic published in 1948 by Brazilian Jeronymo Monteiro. The book takes place a little earlier, in the middle of Second World War, when Nazism is advancing in Europe, the Japanese Empire extends across the Pacific, and Brazil sends soldiers to fight in Italy against fascism.
In this scenario, we get into the shoes of Jeremias, who receives a Guyana iron grid with strange symbols. Salvio, his scholarly friend, or “conspiracyist”, deciphers the symbols and was delighted with the content. It is a map that shows the location of a possible “Temple of the Sun” in countryside of Brazil, which would be proof that humanity and civilization did not arise in Africa and the Middle East as we were led to believe, but in South America by the enigmatic Atlanteans.
Salvio convinces Jeremias to leave São Paulo in search of the temple and leave for the interior of Brazil. So far, almost everything is explained with long dialogues, and although Salvio cites several authors and uses real archeology to expose his belief, it’s really hard to believe his theory. The story also follows a slow pace, until they are joined by Quincas, a knowledgeable guide of the region and the indigenous peoples who will take them to the Xingu, when the adventure really begins.
I liked how indigenous peoples are showed as people, not stereotyped as “enemies”. Some will help travelers in their endeavor, others will be a threat because they feel threatened. The story itself doesn’t follow the exploration style we’re so used to seeing in books and movies. No treasures to be stolen, or immortality for the protagonists as in Lost Horizon (1933) by James Hilton. In The Lost City the characters just want to reveal the truth, to be free to tell the story. They do not intend to take what is outside, but only to know what is inside, what surrounds them.
Another interesting aspect of the book is its philosophy. Although it takes place during the Second World War, the patriotic values of the characters are questioned, their desire to reveal a new Brazil is confronted as pure selfishness, making us reflect on the banality of our desires. It doesn’t matter if it’s Nazism, Fascism, or even democracy. In the end, it’s always men killing men, and profiting from it.
“Greedness! It has lost men. The unbridled desire for ever greater profits blinds men. You have launched yourselves into a desperate race for the conquest of luxury, comfort, material goods, wealth, forgetting that the flesh does not live, it is the spirit who lives. Never in your world was there such an uncontrolled desire to dominate and enjoy, as now. And perhaps, also, at no time, were there so many millions of creatures suffering from hunger, misery and cold. The war that you do is not like the ‘normal’ war, which throws the tiger against the lion, the wolf against the dog. It is, on the contrary, an action carefully prepared by the dominant minority, which will reap great profits and advantages with it. Minorities feed war with the flesh, blood and dreams of those they exploit, imprison and torment during peace. But isn’t this clear enough? It is during wars that great fortunes are accumulated, but great fortunes are never for those who drag in the trenches, who breathe the deleterious gases and are attacked by dysentery and take shelter, to shoot, behind piles of rotting corpses. These, when they manage to return, will then go looking for job, these poor foundlings of life, useless and silly ones. Notice that the most imperialist and cynical nations try to give their soldiers of all categories, on the battlefront, the maximum comfort, the best food… It is necessary to deceive them, feed them and preserve them, because they are ‘money making machines’…”
About the author
The writer Jeronymo Barbosa Monteiro (1908–1970) is a fundamental landmark in Brazilian children’s and youth literature. He was one of the forerunners of radio theater, creator of the first Brazilian detective and the first police series. But, above all, he is always remembered as “Father of Brazilian Science Fiction”.
About science fiction, he said:
“I believe that the more man is concerned about the future, the more he is climbing the scale of perfection. (…) Man will improve in his general judgment about the world, learning to predict, he will end up prophesying with certainty.” (Jeronymo Monteiro, SOURCE)
What I Learned From Reading The Lost City like a Writer
Like a writer, I don’t see any other way to explain the pace of the book other than breaking it down into five parts:
The first part is an introduction. It is short and without many details, it goes from the beginning of the story until they meet Quincas, with long expository dialogues.
The second, with more descriptions of scenarios, deals with the trip to Araguaia, it is a more real adventure, whose conflicts boil down to indigenous peoples, survival, and finding the right path.
In the third, fantasy begins to merge with the reality of the trip, with apparently supernatural events and scenarios disturbing the knowledge of the characters and the reader. In my opinion, it’s the best part of the book (I love fantasy).
In the fourth, the characters are exposed to a new truth, a devastating truth. This new truth further expands their beliefs. The pace here is slower, returning to the long dialogues of the first part, with more philosophical content. Conflicts are more subjective. It is the strong point of the book, the second best part, when we realize the author’s intention and the importance of the trip.
The fifth and final part is just a conclusion regarding the characters we follow, what they do after they have access to the new truth. It’s the shortest part, I felt rushed, so I was a little disappointed about the end.
Read the review of The Lost City in Portuguese HERE.