Sunday, November 28, 2010
EVERY LOST COUNTRY by Steven Heighton (2010) Knopf Canada
Based loosely on an incident that occurred in Fall 2006 on the border between Nepal and the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, EVERY LOST COUNTRY charts the courses of Lewis Book, a doctor who has a history of serving in difficult conflicts; his 16-year-old daughter Sophie who is escaping her own recent past misstep; Wade Lawson, an extreme climber hoping to be the first to summit Mt. Kyatruk; and, Amaris McRae, a Chinese-Canadian filmmaker documenting their journey.
Heighton is an established poet as well as a novelist and throughout this haunting novel there are many lines of found poetry, including the opening line that "air this thin/turns anyone/into a mystic." As the members of the expedition, including local Sherpa guides, acclimatize to the air pressure at their base camp, one evening Sophie perches on the border between China and Nepal to scribble in her sketchbook/journal and watch the sun set over the Himalayas "by four in the afternoon...the cold dusk already deepening...spotlighting the pass and the valley and dyeing the glacier as it descends...a vast, glowing channel of lava running down a volcanic slope." Sophie "sees the trouble coming because she knows her father."
Shots ring out as Chinese soldiers fire at Tibetan refugees trying to flee into exile (as 150,000 have done before them, since 1959, including the current Dalai Lama). Lewis, Sophie's dad, is compelled to attend to the wounded and in so doing finds himself marched away by the Chinese, a captive and political pawn. Amaris, too, with her drive to film the hard truth, becomes a fugitive as Lawson, Sophie and the others look impotently on.
What follows is a thrilling pursuit where each of the characters is forced to face their fears and decide whether or not they can find within themselves the moral courage to continue, especially when the odds of survival are stacked against them. In EVERY LOST COUNTRY, Steven Heighton has woven a tale where complicated emotional truths and even more complicated circumstances intersect and you find yourself wondering alongside Lewis, Sophie, Wade and Amaris when it is acceptable to be a bystander and when life, love and loyalty demand more. Don't miss this extraordinary journey where "desire is a narrative/that keeps you moving forward/even at a crawl/needing to find out."