Saturday, February 10, 2007

Beyond the Summit

Author: Linda LeBlanc
Publisher: Pilgrims Publishing
ISBN: 0-9785353-0-8

The year is 1968. Beth and Eric, a journalist and a photographer who are also romantically involved, are trekking in the mountains of Nepal to do a story about the Sherpas. Dorje - a Sherpa who aspires to climb Mt. Everest as his childhood hero, Norgay Tenzing, had done fifteen years earlier - serves as the chief guide for Beth and Eric’s party. Since Dorje is one of the few Sherpas who speak English, he becomes an important source of information for Beth. Although Beth and Eric become engaged during their trek, it does not take long for Beth and Dorje to develop a friendship that could, given the opportunity, bloom into a more intimate relationship. That opportunity arises when Eric leaves Nepal to undertake another photographic assignment while Beth remains in Nepal to finish her research. By the time Beth leaves Nepal, she and Dorje have become lovers.

Beth returns to the United States and Dorje remains in Nepal. As Beth prepares for her wedding, Dorje becomes betrothed to a Sherpani woman. Unable to shake the memory of Dorje from her mind, Beth returns to Nepal for a quick visit just before her wedding. She and Dorje resume their relationship and make plans for him to return to the United States with her. Before they can do this, however, Dorje must make one last journey high into the Himalayas. This journey, the most dangerous he has ever undertaken, will take him to Mt. Everest’s summit. The journey to the summit will fulfill the dreams of his childhood and, he hopes, free him to pursue the new dreams of his manhood.

Beyond the Summit’s plot is not particularly intricate, but that does not matter because the story’s momentum is derived from its characters and context. LeBlanc’s principal plot device is the exploitation of conflict and resolution. There is conflict between Beth and Eric, conflict between Eric and Dorje, conflict between Dorje and his traditionalistic father, conflict between various mountaineers, conflict between humankind and the unrelenting forces of nature. . . . The book does not need a complex plot; its characters and their context are more than adequately stimulating.

This book is filled with fascinating information about the Sherpas and mountaineering. The author has trekked in the Himalayas herself and has gained much of her knowledge through personal experience. She knows the extreme discomfort of sleeping in a tent at 18,000 feet above sea-level. She knows the stress of struggling to breathe, let alone engage in physical labor, at extremely high altitudes. She has deep respect for the Sherpas and understands the stresses they endure as their culture undergoes abrupt, startling transformations. Even though LeBlanc’s thorough knowledge of her subject is the greatest strength she brings to this project, the book never feels pedantic.

Readers looking for something to push their adrenaline into overdrive will not find it in this book. On the other hand, readers who like well paced accounts that realistically portray adventures will find this book compelling. Readers who enjoy romantic stories in exotic settings will find this story intriguing. Readers interested in non-Western cultures will enjoy LeBlanc’s warm portrayal of the rapidly disappearing Sherpa culture. And readers interested in extreme sports, particularly mountaineering, will enjoy LeBlanc’s vivid depiction of a trek to the highest mountain of them all.

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