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Trail of Feathers: In Search of the Birdmen of Peru Paperback – June 16, 2003

3.9 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Paperback, June 16, 2003
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--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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From Publishers Weekly

Being the type of guy who hangs about at shrunken head auctions, sleeps in hotel rooms washed in human blood and traverses the U.S. for a month without ever leaving an airport, Shah (Sorcerer's Apprentice) is comfortable in strange company. So when a fellow shrunken head devotee sends him a rust-colored feather dipped in blood and tells him to go in search of the Birdmen of Peru, there is no way he can refuse. Armed with cumbersome camping equipment and a vague idea that flight was invented long before the Wright Brothers, Shah traverses Peru as if at a treasure hunt, picking up clues in his quest to discover if the Incas could really fly. His beguiling ways, reflected in the seductive warmth of his writing, charm even the most exclusive strangers; they proffer an aborted llama fetus and guinea pig therapy for good fortune, then lead him to a sinking reed boat on the Amazon and a tribe of legendary cannibals, the Shuar, with whom he finally discovers ayahusasca the secret of Incan flight. Shah's passion for the bizarre and grotesque suffuses the book, and his writing is inspired, very funny and always respectful of the traditions and cultures he encounters. Supported by a thorough appendix, this tale is as marvelously multifaceted and offbeat as its author's shrunken head obsession might lead one to expect. 16 pages color photos. (May)
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Tahir Shah was born into Afghan nobility in 1966 and grew up in England. He has worked for the Institute of Cultural Research and with the Institute for the Study of Human Knowledge, and has written widely on the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa, and South America. When not traveling, he lives in London with his wife and daughter. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Arcade Publishing (June 16, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559706775
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559706773
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,460,137 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on August 8, 2002
Format: Hardcover
There are perilous things that can happen if you try to start a collection of shrunken heads. Tahir Shah was "desperate to start a collection of my own," and so he showed up at a secretive, invitation-only auction of eleven such heads under the auspices of a "learned British society." To his dismay, within fifteen minutes, the whole set of heads was knocked down to a Japanese collector who had been "trying to corner the shrunken head market for years." The evening was not a total loss, as an elderly Frenchmen advised Shah to go to Peru. For the shrunken heads? Why, no, for the birdmen. This didn't make any sense, and the Frenchman would not elaborate, but a week later an envelope came from Paris, bearing an old feather and a quotation from a 1638 book that said Incas flew like birds over the jungle. Shah was launched onto research and travels recounted in _Trail of Feathers: In Search of the Birdmen of Peru_ (Arcade Publishing), and they make for frequently hilarious reading. He is a different type of explorer, pursuing an idea rather than going to regions no one has ever seen, and has endured with good humor atrocious travel arrangements and louche characters that would make other people scream.
After some research, he starts, of course, at the current hotspot for archeological tourism, Machu Picchu, which he finds looks from above like a condor. He goes to Nazca, the region of the famous patterns in the desert that only make sense when seen from high above. He is pursued by a Parisienne who is looking for a father for her children, and who comes equipped with a dried lama fetus which can be made, she says, into an aphrodisiac soup. In the village of Trompeteros, he attends with all the citizens the beauty contest sponsored by Inca Brand Condoms.
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Format: Hardcover
It's another of Shah's peculiar passions, shrunken heads, that spurs his quest up the Amazon in search of the legendary fliers of Peru. "..." Alas, all the heads at this invitation-only auction ("...") are scooped up and Shah's only consolation is the cryptic remark of a French collector that if he was forty years younger, he'd seek out the Birdmen of Peru.
As it happens, this also dovetails with Shah's interest in flight (...), and after some serious research into scant legends of pre-Wright flight, he takes the Frenchman's advice.
Shah, born into Afghan nobility, brought up in Britain, combines a neophyte's wariness with a a scholar's penchant for research and a dogged will to follow the clues anywhere. As a writer, his gift for capturing the absurd is surpassed only by his ability to laugh at himself, making for an aborbing, educational and hilarious trip through the remoter regions of Peru and Inca culture.
Ridiculously over-supplied, Shah struggles with his mounds of luggage from campsite to crowded bus and train, from dusty village to timeless ruins to, at last, the jungles of the Amazon rain forest. To start, a four-day backpacking trip across mountain passes brings him to sunrise over the lost Inca city of Macchu Pichu, missed by the gold-hunting conquistadors, but overrun by busloads of modern tourists. Here Shah examines a temple dedicated to the condor, but his guide tells him his obsession with flight misses the point. " 'Whether the Incas flew or not is irrelevant,' she said. 'Instead, you must ask why they wanted to fly.' " Shah takes this advice to heart and incorporates the spiritual element into his quest.
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Format: Hardcover
Beginning with the Wright brothers, Tahir Shah spreads his flying carpet for the unsuspecting reader of travel tomes.
There is a legend that a great bird which, if found, would confer ultimate fulfillment for the seeker. It drops a feather within the mundane where an ordinary man or woman may find it, and, from this single clue, find the fabulous bird. This theme was exploited by Stephen Spielberg in "Close Encounters of the Third Time," where Richard Dryfus begins with the slightest hint of a meeting place he must attain for a rendexvous with superior beings beyond earth, then slowly, intuitively builds a model of the site until he recognizes the place and goes there, arriveing just in time.
While TRAIL OF FEATHERS is ostensibly a literal, if zany, hike through the jungles of Peru in search of the reality behind winged men woven into the ancient textiles of the region, it bears all of the elements of a mythic search for ultimate meaning. Several contacts scold the author for his obsession with flying, which, they say, is nothing. All that counts, they tell him, is the reason for flight and the treasure brought back to earth.
The author's search for the flying men of Peru seems akin to the Australian aboriginee "walk about." As Shah again and again chooses the most uncomfortable means of travel and lodging, I could not help suspecting that his was a ritual journey and that the trail, not the feathers nor the flying, was the destination.
Reading what seemed quite similar to Latin American "magical reality," I learned an enormous amount about Peru's real history, geography and its people--far more, I felt, than I could have learned in any other format, unless I went there myself and took the same risks as the author.
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