Book Club: March 2024 by Hana Zittel

Book Club
By Hana Zittel
Published Issue 123, March 2024

Two Sherpas by Sebastián Martínez Daniell, Translated by Jennifer Croft (2023)

The immensity of Mount Everest and the consuming shadow of imperialism are melded with the micro-story of an ascent gone awry in Sebastián Martínez Daniell’s latest novel. Two Sherpas are guiding a young Englishman on his climb when he stumbles and falls 10 meters. He lies motionless and the Sherpas must decide what they will do next while navigating the complex pressure of potentially losing a tourist on this journey. 

Intertwined with their contemplation, Martínez Daniell delves into the inner thoughts of “the young Sherpa” and “the old Sherpa.” The younger Sherpa dreams of a future career in naval engineering or perhaps international politics, thinks of his school’s production of Julius Cesar — where he will open the show as Flavius, and of the death of his father. Meanwhile, the older Sherpa was not born near the mountain and dwells on his past and journey to his current role.

Sections between the Shzerpas’ internal lives are broken up by chapters on the imperial history of Mount Everest, shedding light on the racism and exploitation perpetuated by tourists summiting this peak. Martínez Daniell covers the Western obsession with claiming the mountain, exploring events like British millionaire Lady Houston’s funding of the first flight over Everest in 1933 to “establish a symbol of the supremacy of the United Kingdom over the colonies.” He moves to recount the first successful summit in 1953 by Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay, a Sherpa from Nepal, led by Colonel John Hunt of England, with both Hillary and Hunt awarded with knighthood and Norgay notably receiving a lesser honor. 

Martínez Daniell additionally covers the 2014 Everest avalanche that killed 16 Sherpas. Denied the request to cease expeditions for the remainder of the year by the government of Nepal, combined with the families of the dead receiving a pittance for the incident, the Sherpas go on strike, much to the dismay of self-interested tourists. “On seeing that the Sherpas didn’t want to go back to work, desperate, the tourist pleaded with the intermediary: ‘And … can’t you talk to their owner?’ The word he uses is owners. He says it in English.”

Martínez Daniell’s novel is a sparse venture into creative nonfiction nimbly navigating the micro and macro worlds of the highest peak on earth while grappling with the complexities of humanity, politics and oppression. Constantly creating binary explorations, Two Sherpas is a unique literary force. As Martínez Daniell’s third novel, it’s preceded by Semana and Precipitaciones aisladas, both available only in the original Spanish.

The Lost Soul by Olga Tokarczuk, Illustrated by Joanna Concejo, Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (2021)

Nobel prize winning author Olga Tokarczuk ventures into the medium of graphic storytelling with the gentle fable, The Lost Soul. A man goes about his busy life until he is startled awake, panicked and unable to remember his own name. When he goes to the doctor he learns that he has simply lost his soul and that his quick movements through the world and busy life are the cause of it being left behind as “souls move at a much slower speed than bodies.” To find it, he must return to where he was a few years ago and wait for his soul to return.

The Lost Soul (2021) by Olga Tokarczuk, Illustrated by Joanna Concejo

Accompanying Tokarczuk’s sweet, minimal fable of stillness and the value of slow living are detailed pencil drawings on graph paper. Telling their own simultaneous story alongside the words, Joanna Concejo skillfully builds in more and more color as the story moves, culminating in a vibrant ending explosion of a full, radiant garden. An elegant and slight addition to Tokarczuk’s massive accomplishments, The Lost Soul radiates beauty in its simplicity.  

The Lost Soul (2021) by Olga Tokarczuk | Illustration by Joanna Concejo

Hana Zittel is a librarian at the Denver Public Library in addition to being a librarian at the Denver Zine Librarian. She grew up in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and pretty much just likes being outside with her pup when she has some free time, and reading, that might have been assumed though.

Check out Hana’s February Book Club install in case you missed it, or head to our Explore section to see more of her past reviews.

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