Journalist Popescu’s debut novel tells the story of a teenage girl from the Sherpa community coming-of-age in the Himalayas.
The novel begins two days before 17-year-old narrator Nima's wedding day, about three years after a tragedy befell her family, which includes her abusive father, compliant mother, and five younger sisters. When the groom-to-be, Norbu, seeks to alter an important detail of the arrangement, the prospect of the marriage becomes untenable, and Nima must flee. Few opportunities exist for married women in Nima’s community, let alone young, single ones, but a determined Nima commits to supporting herself the way her father once supported the family and Norbu would his, by trekking to Mount Everest’s base camp, initially disguised as a boy, and then as the girl she is. She encounters a trio of Westerners—Val, a reporter for the BBC, Val’s boyfriend, Ethan, and their photographer friend Daniel—that hires her as one of two guides. (Popescu has himself climbed partway up Everest as a reporter for the BBC.) Between the hostile terrain and even more hostile culture toward women and girls, the journey proves perilous. The novel is at its best when it’s grounded in Nima’s spiritual upbringing even though she herself doesn’t necessarily believe what her parents do. But too often, Nima is explaining her culture and the worldview that alienates her so deeply to the reader. The novel’s structure, language, and characters, most of which do not move beyond archetypes, do little to enrich the story. Nima faces many compelling challenges, but a series of hardships, even when rooted in intersecting oppressive circumstances, do not a novel make.
Popescu tries hard to give voice to the needs and wants of a girl from a marginalized community but falls short of his literary aspirations.