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All Elevations Unknown: An Adventure in the Heart of Borneo Paperback – July 9, 2002
"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Pre-order today
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In March 1945, a smart but rowdy British officer named Tom Harrisson parachuted into the Borneo Highlands and set about organizing an army of headhunters to battle the Japanese invaders. He knew the difficult country a little, having been there on a scientific expedition before the war, but now, "shepherded to the island by the world's most lucrative sponsor, the Dogs of War," he had to learn its secrets, and quickly.
In 1958, Harrisson wrote a memoir, World Within, chronicling his time on the island. Looking for new places to explore, Wyoming rock-scrambler Sam Lightner and his German climbing partner happened on Harrisson's book, studied it closely, and, with four other "dirt-bag" climbers, went off to Borneo to find the peak of their dreams in the cloud forests, in country that maps "tinted gray and labeled 'All Elevations Unknown'." Battling unusual elements--including having to "cough up the larvae of echinococcosus" and dodge giant snakes, to say nothing of the area's still-active headhunting bands--they found it, scaled the spire called Batu Lawi, and lived to tell the tale.
Their exploits form the heart of Lightner's good-natured narrative, which draws on Harrisson's own account of jungle warfare to become a work of history as much as outdoors travel. Climbers, students of World War II, and armchair adventurers alike will enjoy his report. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
First-time author Lightner, a well-known rock climber, presents a memorable if somewhat problematic travel-adventure memoir of his 1999 climb up Borneo's Batu Lawi, an all-but-unknown peak in a rough jungle. He approaches the peak armed only with regional maps, none of which show the mountain, and a book called World Within, a travel memoir published in 1958 by Tom Harrisson, a British officer who parachuted onto the mountain during WWII to establish an Allied base. Drawn to Harrisson's book, Lightner intersperses chapters about his climb with chapters retelling Harrisson's story, building dramatic tension to the climaxes of both tales. He occasionally refers to his funding from a hiking supply company, and one sometimes wonders how sponsorship affected the story, though to Lightner's credit, the narrative seems free of commercial agenda. More problematic are the imagined dialogues between Harrisson and his colleagues; Lightner admits they are based on second- and third-hand accounts, and the conceit feels strained. "Although it is not pure history, it comes very close," Lightner claims. Harrisson settled on Borneo with a Kelabit (a local ethnicity) wife and helped the island improve its educational and political structures. But Lightner's own story, his natural flair for writing and the inspiration he derives from Harrisson's life would have been sufficiently interesting to support a more traditional approach to Harrisson's tale. As it is, though, this remains a wonderful introduction to an island and culture known to few people. 3 maps. (On-sale date: June 12)
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading about an exotic land where very few people will ever get to experience firsthand.
In reading about his adventure, you gain insight into not only the heart of a true adventurist trying to step foot where few have ever been and the hardships involved in such undertakings. You'll certainly think twice about sponsorship of your next adventure, especially any video documentation after hearing of his conflicts with his camera crew. At the same time, you'll gain a love of the people and land of Borneo. This tale is perfect for those who love adventure as well as learning the history of a people and their land.
Nevertheless, the dual stories make the book. Lightner correctly realizes that his own climbing tale is simply too thin. His other main problem is that the World War II story is far more interesting, especially since most people have no clue about how the war was fought on Borneo. (My own reference library on World War II devotes two sentences to the island: the Japanese captured it; later the Allies took it back.) Lightner has done a wonderful job of bringing this little-known story to life, but by so doing, he emphasizes the thinness of his own tale, whose central conflict turns out to be between himself and the film crew who helped finance the expedition. The "video guys," as he calls them, want things in exchange for their money that change the nature of the climbers' goals. That's interesting...but not as much so as a world war.
The third problem is that in his efforts to bring the story to life, Lightner's gone farther than needed, by fabricating dialog, characters' reactions to each other, and additional perceptual material to fill in gaps in the narrative. He admits this, but it's an ill-considered approach to a story with drama enough to stand on its own if he'd made it clear which material is based on someone's memoirs, and which is interpolated. Not doing it in the traditional manner leaves the reader wondering how much of the story is real, and how much is guesswork. Worse, it casts doubt on Lightner's own tale. Every time he intercuts from the present to the past, he does so by having himself reflect on the World War II story. The third time he did this, I wondered: Is this also a device? Might he have been napping at the time, rather than thinking about World War II? And if so, what else in the tale is a device?
None of this destroys the versimilitude of the whole, but it does undermine it. But that said, it's a good book, recommended to those with an interest in adventure travel, history, and to a lesser extent, climbing.
Like other readers, I found Lightner's writings about Maj. Harrison's battles with the Japanese soldiers far more interesting than the snippy arguments he details between himself and the film crew that documents his climb. It was amusing (as a woman) to see that a group of men can be just as catty to one another, but Lightner goes into far too much detail about these highly personal spats, and many times, leaves me wanting more detail about the flora, the sights, the sounds and smells and to learn more about the indigenous guides that the author is traveling with.
This book made me want to read more about Maj. Harrison's amazing and brave liberation of Borneo because Harrison, like author Eric Hansen 30+ years later, fell in love with the tribal people of Borneo; he grew to respect their customs, and in many instances their ecological reverence for the rainforest in which they dwelt. Hopefully, the biography of Maj. Harrison will not remain out of print for too long. If you're interested in climbing, the rainforest or in Borneo, this book is worth your time.