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Snow Leopardby Peter Matthiessen
Winner of the 1979 National Book Award for Nonfiction
Synopses & Reviews
When Peter Matthiessen set out with the field biologist George Schaller from Pokhara, in northwest Nepal, their hope was to reach the Crystal Mountain — a foot journey of 250 miles or more across the Himalaya — in the Land of Dolpo, on the Tibetan plateau. Since they wished to observe the late-autumn rut of the bharal, or Himalayan blue sheep, they undertook their trek as winter snows were sweeping into the high passes, and five weeks were required to reach their destination.
At Shey Compaa, a very ancient Buddhist shrine on the Crystal Mountain, the Lama had forbidden all killing of wild animals, and bharal were said to be numberous and easily observed. Where they were numerous there was bound to appear that rarest and most beautiful of the great cats, the snow leopard. Hope of glimpsing this near-mythic beast in the snow mountains would be reason enough for the entire journey.
For Peter Matthiessen, a student of Zen Buddhism, there was a crucial inner journey as well. In Inner Dolpo, said to be the last enclave of pure Tibetan culture left on earth, the Lama of Shey was revered as an incarnation of Milarepa's teacher, the great twlefth-century Lama Marpa. He had been in seclusion when a scholar of Tibetan religions reached the Crystal Monastery seventeen years before, but it was Matthiessen's hope that they would find him.
Any trip is an epxerience that tests the life of the traveler. But this one especially was a real passage, involving and exploring, unfolding and revealing the narrator and his world. The Snow Leopard is Peter Matthiessen's radiant and deeply moving account of a "true pilgrimage, a journey of the heart."
"Matthiessen's triumph — and there is no other word for it — is a book that will outlive him. It is a masterpiece." John Hillaby, Quest
"A magical book: a kind of lunar paradigm and map of the sacred. There is a sense that the book has trascended the usual limits of language." Jim Harrison, The Nation
"Simply as a step-by-step account of villages entered, peaks crossed, the enormously elating business of survival, The Snow Leopard is stunning....It is also Matthiessen's attempt to stand beyond modern time, and the extreme beauty of this radiant book lies in the fact that he fails....He has expressed with uncommon candor and no prospect of relief, a longing which keeps the soul striving and alert in us all. That is the profound humanity of The Snow Leopard, a book fiercely felt and magnificently written." Terrence Des Pres, Washington Post Book World
"A beautiful book, and worthy of those mountains he is among." Paul Theroux
"Radiant....We have a veritable yeti here — somebody who on his own ground is leaving marks no one else could make." Edward Hoagland, The New York Times Book Review
"A beautiful, magnificent book. It gives off at once what I take to be the resonance of a classic. It is one of the most wonderful accounts I know of journeying in our time." W. S. Merwin
"Marvelously depicted mountain landscapes and scenes of frigid pastoral life....An experiment as daring in its own way as his recent novel Far Tortuga. It is essential reading for anyone interested in the writing life as well as the aspiring life." Alan Cheuse, Bookreview
"A memorable story of spiritual adventure....On page after page the reader's spine tingles. He (Matthiessen) creates a unique picture of that upper Himalayan world in the resonant strokes that are his hallmark." Frank Graham, Jr., Audobon
"Peter Mattiessen is one of the important wilderness writers of our time. This is Matthissen at his best." Paul Zweig, Saturday Review
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