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.