Writers on Place (Book Review)

Last month I posted a description of a Writers Week event called The Away Bound Train : writers on place.  This month Kylie Jarrett, a Reading Woman from Flinders University, shares her thoughts on a book that is very much about place – mountains in Nepal and Peru:

I would like to talk up my joy of reading through this book I was immersed in over the summer, Storms of Silence by Joe Simpson .  Famous for his book and documentary film, Touching the Void, in this one he tells stories of his mountaineering experiences, but also of the horrors taken place there, on the Himalaya’s Nepal/Tibet border and in the Peruvian Andes.  I have a thing for true stories of adventure, and this one really fascinated me.  The mountain outings are told in good detail and the dialogue with the people in his life is very sprightly and interesting.

Then the histories are brought in of the atrocities suffered by the Tibetan people since the Chinese occupation.  Later in the book you learn about the Shining Path terrorists in Peru in the ‘80s, and also the story of an earthquake-triggered alluvion that entombed an entire town in the Andes in 1970. You have a theme of Simpson coming to terms with these events and asking what is the point of human violence.  As a reader I was engrossed in the vivid detail of his storytelling and thought-sharing. It was sobering one moment, mountain culture and landscape awesomeness the next, some recounting of ghostly energy, and at times, a bit of fun.

Does anyone have similar reading experiences, of being rather swept up in fascinating nonfiction?

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Writers on Place (Book Review)

  1. Brenna

    I certainly do! I often find non-fiction (really, really well written non-fiction) is completely engrossing and engaging, just like great fiction.

    One of the best non-fiction books I’ve read recently is “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot, a biography of a woman and the enormous contribution her cells have made to science. The book is engaging, accessible, shocking and the tricky ethical issues raised make it so absorbing.

  2. Kylie and Brenna have both commented on something I entirely agree with: the power of well-written non-fiction. In particular, I’m a big fan of “creative non-fiction” – the kind of non-fiction that combines fact with the ‘creative’ techniques of fiction (such as the ‘keep reading’ plot, symbolism and imagery, detailed setting). Midnight in Peking, the book that I reviewed briefly on the blog last month, is a perfect example of this kind of writing.

  3. Louise

    Love non-fiction Kylie! And I agree absolutely with Brenna on “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”, a really, really well told story. Right now, I’m reading ‘Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A tale of Love and Fallout’ by Lauren Redniss. It’s a biography, richly illustrated by the author. Absolutely gorgeous and unexpected.