In this self-described “non-fiction novel,” Martínez weaves an interesting tale, but he takes too many creative risks to...

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IN THE LAND OF GIANTS

HUNTING MONSTERS IN THE HINDU KUSH

A story about a yeti-seeking adventurer in the Hindu Kush becomes much more.

In his first book to be translated into English, Martínez, a renowned Spanish journalist and author, brings readers the mysterious tale of adventurer Jordi Magraner (1967-2002). Spanish by blood but raised in France, Magraner had been in love with the wilderness since childhood, and he became particularly entranced by humanoid creatures. This led him to the Hindu Kush in the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan to hunt for the legendary “barmanu," the local term for the yeti. Magraner became enamored with the Kalash culture, a dying society of just a few thousand mostly impoverished people. Eventually, he ran into trouble, particularly after 9/11. The story of Magraner’s life—and his murder—is unquestionably intriguing, but the author’s choices in style and organization leave something to be desired. Intermittent, pagelong chapters focus on the history of hunting “monsters,” but these feel random and unrelated. There’s also a strange focus on Magraner’s sexuality, including an entire chapter devoted to speculations by various people in his circle. Furthermore, most of the photos included in the text lack captions or descriptions; readers may glean the subjects from context, but it’s a frustrating omission. However, in terms of pure storytelling, the author does an impressive job of turning Magraner into one of the “giants” of the title. As his subject’s behavior becomes increasingly enigmatic, the narrative becomes far less about yeti hunting than about not only solving his murder, but also understanding his charismatic and manic personality. As one friend noted, “Jordi was manifold—nobody truly knew him.” Martínez sets out to do just that, and he is clearly passionate about his subject, dangerously traveling in Magraner’s footsteps—but never arriving at the truth.

In this self-described “non-fiction novel,” Martínez weaves an interesting tale, but he takes too many creative risks to satisfy all but the most fervent fans of Middle Eastern and/or Asian culture.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-947534-10-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Scribe

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

WHY WE SWIM

A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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A quiet delight of a book.

GRANDMA GATEWOOD'S WALK

THE INSPIRING STORY OF THE WOMAN WHO SAVED THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL

A journalist’s biography of the unassuming but gutsy 67-year-old Ohio grandmother who became the first person to walk all 2,050 miles of the Appalachian Trail three times.

When Emma Gatewood (1887–1983) first decided she would hike the A.T., she told no one what she planned to do—not even her 11 children or 23 grandchildren. Instead, she quietly slipped away from her home in May 1955 and began her walk at the southern terminus of the trail in Georgia. Accomplishing this feat—which she often described as “a good lark”—was enough for her. Tampa Bay Times staff writer Montgomery tells the story of Gatewood’s first hike and those that followed, interweaving the story with the heartbreaking details of her earlier life. He suggests that this woman, who eventually came to be known as “Queen of the Forest,” was far from the eccentric others claimed she was. Instead, Montgomery posits that this celebrated hiker used long-distance walking to help her come to terms with a dark secret. At 18, Gatewood married a man she later discovered had a violent temper and an insatiable sexual appetite. Despite repeated beatings over 30 years, she remained with him until he nearly killed her. Afterward, she lived happily with her children for almost 20 years. Montgomery suggests that an article in National Geographic may have been what first inspired Gatewood to hike the trail. However, as her remarkable trek demonstrated, while the A.T. was as beautiful as the magazine claimed, it was also in sore need of maintenance. Gatewood’s exploits, which would later include walking the Oregon Trail, not only brought national attention to the state of hikers’ trails across a nation obsessed with cars and newly crisscrossed with highways; it also made Americans more aware of the joys of walking and of nature itself.

A quiet delight of a book.

Pub Date: April 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61374-718-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Chicago Review Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2014

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