Sacred Mountain by Robert Ferguson is not a novel a lot of people are talking about. It is put out by a small publisher with a limited marketing campaign. And yet, it caught my attention because it combines two of my favorite historical themes: early climbers of Mount Everest and the Asian battles of World War II.
Sacred Mountain tells the story of Philip Armitage’s experiences in Burma in 1943 and against the backdrop of Mount Everest in 1953. The 1953 story line is the more engaging and more prominent of the two. Sent to Nepal to report on the Everest expedition, Armitage gets mixed up in defending Tibetan monks crossing the border into Nepal over the Himalayas. Along the way he confronts his war torn past metaphorically in the battles he wages against the Red Army and in reality in the unlikely reuniting with his old Gurkha platoon.
Like so many people, I am fascinated by early attempts to summit Everest. Men risked their lives and those of their sherpas for passing glory, and yet I can’t look away. Ferguson, who has worked as a mountain guide in Nepal, brings the trials of these journeys to life. Most importantly, however, Ferguson focuses on the sherpas. By putting them in the spotlight of his narrative he is bringing their knowledge and expertise to the fore. In fact, for much of the narrative Armitage is the only person who is not indigenous to the region.
The one real weakness of the novel was the inclusion of romance. Sigh. Can’t we ever just have an adventure story without a romantic interest? Ferguson’s story would have been complete without the inclusion of a major female character. I understand that her inclusion attempts at a gender balance in the story, but it also brings up many of the stereotypes of women as care givers and helpmates.
Who would like this novel? If you like action and adventure in the high mountains then this book screams to you. I was drawn to it both because of the Everest connection, but also because of the insight it gives into the plight of Tibetan Buddhists in the face of communist China. In many ways it reminded me of the movie Seven Years in Tibet. A more contemporary take on the same topic is Steven Heighton’s 2010 novel Every Lost Country, which I thoroughly enjoyed. All of these would make excellent gifts for someone heading to Nepal.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.