Skip to main content

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

The morbidity of tragedy doesn't diminish its astounding nature, particularly if it is well-documented. Its like witnessing a gory accident - our mind instructs us to stop looking into details but curiosity is hard to abate, much to our own extreme discomfort. I am not uninitiated to the topic of the Everest, and more specifically, the darker aspect of it, having read a few accounts of George Leigh Mallory - who remains a quaint personal inspiration. Irrespective to the same, high altitude tragedies do not seem to blunt the pang I feel - several thousand feet vertically below the scene of action - for the men and women up the slopes. And what men and women they are...

Into Thin Air is no mean feat. Of course, being based on the painful spring of 1996, when the majestic mountain claimed the highest toll since foot was set upon it with the purpose of summitting it (later outrun by the events of 2014 Everest avalanche and the avalanches triggered by the 2015 Nepal earthquakes). Jon Krakauer - the well-known American writer and mountaineer and a member and lucky survivor of the incident gives a first-hand, very journalistic and investigative account of what transpired on that fateful day. The narrative starts at the cusp of when things started unravelling and traces back tantalisingly to the origin of it all. It builds slowly, till nearly half the book, with adequate time expended on the key participants - developing their personal profile and setting the mood - both at the human-interaction level and the physical landscape level - as the the climbers venture higher on the mountain. And then gradually, the situation spirals into a disaster that never really lets up. Krakauer, very skilfully, sticks to a very personal viewpoint, not a bird's-eye-view version, and barring slipping in a few retrospective comments, narrates events as they happened to and around him. This lends a story-like quality to the narrative, so that the reader would be hoping against hope that a miraculous ending might just be possible. Sadly, this is the real world out there. There are miracles, but none are of the scale that can wipe out the dark doom that envelops the climbers on those two fateful days. Perhaps, foreknowledge abates to some extent the sting that the culmination of the expeditions would bring to the ignorant. But the hurt remains surprisingly real. The movie Everest  - also based on the book - does a reasonably good job of portraying the shocking chaos that ungulfs the climbers, but needless to say, the book does it much better. 

Another irrefutable aspect of Krakauer's work is the criticism it drew from several quarters - family and friends of the deceased and other climbers - regarding the veracity of the facts concerning the event. While, it is impossible for laymen like me to deduce the truth, one thing I can say for sure that, barring a highly opinionated and blinkered person, no one is likely to find any severe fault with any member involved in the incident. One can certainly take the content with the disclaimer that it would certainly be coloured to some extent by the perceptions of the author - both of himself and others - but I think that is a risk any kind of narrative, especially one involving a disaster of this scale, would naturally entail. A hardcore climber or alpinist would perhaps be better equipped to judge for himself/herself the efficacy of the decisions taken on the mountain slopes, but somehow, I think it really didn't matter what one person or even a few thought or did on those two days. It was an unstoppable calamity, and the realisation of the same is the triumph of the book. 

Books like Into Thin Air are a must now and again in our daily mundane lives. Sure, our boats too get rocked more often than we would like them to, but most adversities are surmountable, or at best, non-fatal. Summitting the Everest is a life event on a completely different scale and universe, and this book skilfully stitches the two lives together, thus bringing home the dangerous, unrequitted love of this mountain. 


Popular posts from this blog

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (The Original Screenplay) by J.K. Rowling

Well, this was only the movie script, and I can only imagine how the coursebook might be. Dear God, isn't it a relief to relapse into that world, and especially if Rowling herself creates it. Mind you, I couldn't help but compare between the playwright Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and this one, and the difference is so stark. Both have good stories - maybe Fantastic Beasts has less complicated a plot as The Cursed Child - but the latter comes nowhere close to the heart-warmingness of the former.

I began Newt's journey on the big screen. We went for an evening show and we were thrilled as children. Personally, I have been a huge fan of Eddie Redmayne after the BBC adaptation of Birdsong, so it was easy on my eyes to accept him as the sprightly, yet demure Newton Artemis Fido Scamander. The setting was perfect - a 1920s USA, with everything in dull grey and black and brown - an overall dreariness, which was uplifted by the lush, navy blue overcoat-bearing Newt. And of …

The Long and Short of It

Call it stuffy, but there'a a charm about long-winded sentences. 
People my age - and by that I mean the early-to-mid thirties - have had a disgusting time with school texts, which were expressly chosen for their remarkable abstruseness. Most of us were put off with the language, given the  endless probing into seemingly harmless pieces of text and losing marks to our seemingly erroneous interpretations (at this age, I am told that I am never wrong, I can decipher things the way I want; evidently an adult's imagination holds more value than a teenager's). Abstruse works were seldom long-winded, but vice-versa always held true, and does so - to some extent - even now. Excerpts from classics (I remember Shakespeare's pieces - abridged, they said but that didn't make a spot of difference at that age) lacked any modern adherence to placements and abounded in queer, archaic phrases jumbled in a sentence spanning three lines; we were taught conjunctions like 'nevert…

Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

Genre: Classic, Drama Rating: 5/5
There is no arguing the sheer brilliance of John Steinbeck. The long list of accolades and the controversy he had courted in his days (some of which still continues) is proof of his influence in the current society. Some deem him (astoundingly) mediocre, partly on account if his opinionated take on events; others, consider his work as American classic. Neither argument is completely false, though I, personally, align myself with the latter. If it would be possible to keep aside for a moment, the political ramifications of Steinbeck's work, one cannot deny the strength of his writings. He does not waste words; his economy only accentuates the somewhat lean personality of the settings and the characters. Everything is stripped unappealingy bare and covered flimsily with sardonic humour. A bit like J.D. Salinger, in some ways, but with a bigger lens on the society.    
The man is a Nobel laureate (the logic of which, too, is widely contested), and his…