The shadowy disappearance of the author's grandfather into the jungles of Brazil spurs a literary and emotional investigation.
The sinking of the luxurious American passenger ship Vestris in November 1928, bound for Brazil but sunk mysteriously off the coast of Virginia, killing more than 100 people, forms the first clue as to why the New York engineer Walter Lindberg might have abandoned his family. The second husband to the author’s grandmother, Walter did not sail on the Vestris, although his partners and equipment did; instead, he made his way separately to Brazil and was supposed to have been killed soon after by cannibals while trekking through the Amazon jungles on a treasure hunt. This was the official version of her grandfather’s death that the author gleaned from her circumspect father, “through stealth, research and careful observation.” Working as a journalist and a lawyer in New York, author Lindberg became more interested in pursuing Walter’s real story in her mid-30s, after a harrowing surgery to remove a tumor. Moreover, she and her longtime boyfriend broke up over negotiations about whether to have a child. Lindberg discovered that Walter and his partner, Otto Ulrich—who had been on the Vestris and sued for damaged and loss property—were going to meet up in Rio de Janeiro and lead an adventure party in the Amazon in search of a valuable tree. Yet Walter was delayed not because of quality time spent with his wife and child, but to be with his stenographer. Following this string of clues took Lindberg to Brazil to dig around, and she unearthed a pattern of coverups about Walter’s true identity that led to many of the abandonment issues her father later suffered from, passed down to her.
Earnest and convoluted, Lindberg’s story awards patient, adventurous readers.