Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Brief Moments of Humanity

Blum’s Annapurna narrative contains all the drama and thrilling wild emotion that its front and back covers promise, but I thought its real success was Blum’s relatable, personable writing. The whole story (or at least the excerpted chapters that I read) were full of interesting, deeply human moments that I didn’t really expect from a story of this genre.  Seemingly by definition, extreme climbing narratives usually focus on events that their readers can’t relate to, as only a handful of humans have firsthand experience in situations like climbing Annapurna. Thus, they often function as escapist, distant narratives rather than relatable, easily understandable ones. Blum breaks from this idea by seasoning her story with details that appeal to universal human experience, making it an engaging read as well as an impressive one.
Some of the personable details that stood out to me were her descriptions of how all the women were briefly captivated by the idea of looking at themselves in a mirror to see their mountain-worn appearances on page 132, their comforting discussions of food (like KC’s pies on page 130), and the moment when Blum stops climbing to listen to music on page 197. Even though I’ve experienced anything like climbing Annapurna, these little details resonated with me and helped me relate to the climbers, even as they experienced things I probably never will. They also helped remind me that the climbers were all real people with real interests and emotions, not just mountain climbing robots with the singular purpose of trying to reach the summit while avoiding frostbite and crevasses. These constant reminders of their humanity kept me invested in not only their success and survival but also their comfort, feelings and emotions. The other climbers also included some similarly useful details in their diary entries, like when Christy reminds herself of “love, hugs, kisses” on page 182 to distract her from the frightening realities of the altitude and when Vera K describes Chewang’s hilariously frank moment of doubt on page 200, when he says “maybe no success” on the way to the summit. These brief details bring the story to life, humanizing the characters and allowing me to relate to their struggles in ways I couldn’t otherwise. That’s the difference between good writing and merely good story.     

1 comment:

  1. On a similar tone, I enjoyed the familial camaraderie felt by the team as a whole. Despite their bickering and occasional disagreements, most of the time they are willing to work together for the better of the team. I think this really emphasized the humanity of the climbers, rather than them being machines whose sole goal is summiting Annapurna. Blum regularly ties back the women's lives outside of the expedition to the narrative. She mentions how these women have left behind jobs, lovers, and children. To me, it speaks volumes for their passion for climbing. Obviously, being gone for a long period of time can put a strain on both family and career. However, the climbers stay positive on their outlook toward the journey; it never seems like they believe they are wasting their time or hung up on what is happening back home.
    This camaraderie is interesting when compared to Bancroft's book. Bancroft is on a team of two. Much of the expedition is in solitude, other than running into Stannie or talking on the phone with the folks back home. I can appreciate the companionship of Blum's book even more when it is juxtaposed to the desolation of Bancroft. Blum's expedition is an experience in which many people can enjoy and yet commiserate with.
    Thinking about this humanizing more definitely shatters the "escapist" mentality that I had while reading about climbing and expeditions and being away from society. Social problems still exist: the women still bicker. There's a culture shock: the differences in perspective between the Westerners and the Sherpas. Nothing is really defined as escapism, in fact, I would say the opposite is true. The women rely on immense support from sponsors, their families, and each other. When I thought escape I thought of throwing society's troubles behind. In actuality, they are probably exacerbated.