HEART MOUNTAIN by Gretel Ehrlich


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Poet and essayist Ehrlich's vigorous appreciation of the stark beauties and earth-ancient adaptive ways of living--and dying--in the rugged reaches of Wyoming (The Solace of Open Spaces, 1985) provides an unusual meditative space to encompass the plights of history-beset Japanese-Americans and their Wyoming neighbors during the forced internment of Japanese at the outbreak of WW II. At one point four people exchange past journeys in a bar in the raggedy town of Luster, Wyoming, near the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp: an aged Japanese, once a mask-carver for Noh plays; a barman who'd wanted to be a priest; a former Harvard student, now known simply as ""Wild Man""; and a melancholy woman whose retarded son was conceived in one night of love with a dying man. It is the woman who observes: ""There was room here, that was all. . .What they had done, how far they had drifted was of no concern. The convulsions of weather and seasons would always be greater than they were."" Convulsions among men and women, brothers, races, and generations do tremble and subside into time and history. Young McKay, a rancher, loves two women, one an interned Japanese, and he must deal with love/hate for a war-disabled racist brother. In the camp, student Kai, feeding on anger, fighting for his rights as an American citizen, finds for the first time that he's bound to his unassimilated parents, and a brother he never knew he had--a US hero pilot. It is ancient Mr. Abe, the mask-carver and Zen aspirant, who seems to suggest clues to the exhilarating unities of existence as the many disparate lives--an old cowboy sozzled above sadness; young political-minded activists; a waitress and a telephone operator, rigid with loneliness; and others--reach momentarily quiet resolutions. And Heart Mountain itself towers over all the evils and decencies below. A quasi-philosophic treatment of the internment period, which, within mighty Wyoming scenery, rich with the movements of animals and birds and weathers, underscores the essential unity of man--in nobilities as well as basest crimes, and in vulnerability to fate and nature. Handsomely styled, an arresting first novel.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1988
Publisher: Viking