Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man's Miraculous SurvivalTouching the Void: The True Story of One Man's Miraculous Survival by Joe Simpson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I find it very hard to review non-fiction books because it requires carefully distinguishing between the impact of the real-life events they describe and the quality of the description itself. Joe Simpson's "Touching the Void" (originally 1988, but I have read the 2004 edition) presents an absolutely amazing story of a mountain climber's survival. Yet, despite the tremendous impact of the events shown, the book is not outstanding.

Joe Simpson and Simon Yates are climbing the yet unconquered West Face of Siula Grande in Cordillera Huayhuash (Peruvian Andes) in May and June of 1985. They succeed, reach the summit, but on the descent a tragedy occurs, and Joe breaks his knee in a horrible way (his lower leg is driven through the knee joint). Simon tries to help him, lowering him several times on a 300-foot rope, but then Joe falls into a crevasse. Simon cuts the rope to be able to survive, knowing that Joe is dead. However, Joe does not die, and with painfully broken knee (one leg is six inches shorter than the other) crawls and hops through crevasses, glaciers, snowfields, and moraines, many, many miles, without any water and food for three days and three nights, at the elevation of above 18,000 feet. It is the utter triumph of human spirit that he makes it.

The book is a bit overwrought, even maybe hysterical in some passages, and the three different postscripts, especially the Hollywood part, make it weaker than the original story. A non-climbing reader definitely needs the glossary to understand what the author is writing about: abseiling, fluting, cornice, belay, crampon, etc. It is just a good book about a fantastic story.

Three and a quarter stars.

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