One of Our Great Writers
by SeldomSeen on March 4, 2008The Snow Leopard by Peter Mattheissen is a quirky book written by one of the best writers alive. It’s part adventure, part natural history, part anthropology, part memoir and part mediation on Eastern religion. An American Buddhist travels to a very remote part of Tibet, partnered with another scientist, to study a rare, blue sheep and possibly catch a glimpse of the fabled snow leopard. The expedition is under-funded, behind schedule and forever in danger of immediate collapse. Mr. Mattheissen’s keen eye for detail misses nothing and, for some readers, his poetic descriptions may become a little too much. Besides the exquisite details of the flora and fauna, there are long discourses into the religious and socio-political histories of the region and in-depth character profiles of the expedition members .
Though drama mounts as winter approaches, the physical danger takes a backseat to the psychological and spiritual trek. At its heart, the Snow Leopard is a personal journey of loss and redemption. Some critics have complained that this is the book’s greatest weakness. Here Mr. Matthiessen seems to withhold from us just a bit. We learn that his wife has recently died, but we get very little detail and only the briefest glimpse into his family life. I didn’t mind too much. It’s better to withhold some personal emotion than succumb to the kind of self-absorbed bulimia that seems so common in first person narratives today.
In the Snow Leopard, it’s the journey that matters. If you like natural history, adventure stories and philosophical discussion, Snow Leopard is a must read.
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