On the Page: Jungleland by Christopher Stewart

JungleandJungleland

Christopher S. Stewart

(Harper, 288 pp., $27.99)

Midlife crises often take the form of, say, a hot rod in the driveway. Not so for Christopher S. Stewart, whose squeamishness about settling down occasioned a trip through the jungles of Honduras’s Mosquito Coast (during a coup, at that) in search of a lost city.

He takes his inspiration from the explorer (and, later, WWII spy on a mission to kill Hitler) Theodore Morde, who made a similar quest in 1939 and claimed to have found the Ciudad Blanca, but died before he could tell the world where it was. The chapters alternate between Mr. Stewart’s reimagining of Mr. Morde’s adventure and an account of his own.

Though daring, Mr. Stewart has little in common with Indiana Jones besides a pronounced fear of snakes. As the author observes, that comparison is better made to his traveling companion, archaeology professor Chris Begley, who at one point cures a fever by diving into a crocodile-infested river. Not that this is especially new territory for Mr. Stewart, an editor at The Wall Street Journal (and a former editor at this newspaper) whose journalism has often been of the adventure variety. But it is his modesty and ability to articulate his fears that make him an appealing narrator. (About those snakes: he panics when he forgets to bring leg guards to the jungle and improvises with a pair of soccer shin guards.) A biographical note indicates that he “doesn’t plan on returning to the jungle anytime soon.” A pity for readers, who will have to be patient.

On the Page: Jungleland by Christopher Stewart