The Snow Leopard

The Snow Leopard

Book - 1978
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When Matthiessen went to Nepal to study the Himalayan blue sheep and, possibly, to glimpse the rare and beautiful snow leopard, he undertook his five-week trek as winter snows were sweeping into the high passes. This is a radiant and deeply moving account of a "true pilgrimage, a journey of the heart".
Publisher: New York : Viking Press, 1978.
ISBN: 9780670653744
0670653748
Branch Call Number: 915.496 Ma
Characteristics: 338 p.

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w
wyenotgo
Dec 06, 2019

Anyone who has no interest in Zen Buddhism or 'new age' musings will soon lose patience with this book. A reader who (like myself) had enjoyed "A Winter in Nepal" by the much admired John Morris and opened this book expecting a similar experience is sure to be taken aback. This is no travelogue but rather a pilgrimage of sorts, a journey into the self — but at the same time, a thrilling expedition into the most daunting landscape that our world has to offer. Simply to have survived such a trek is a notable achievement.
Agnostic and skeptic that I am, I found the religious and philosophical discourse hard going. Wishing to carry on and get what I could out of what is clearly a remarkable book, I had to re-calibrate my objectives and look at the book from an entirely different perspective. At no point did it become an easy read.
The question hovering over the book from the outset is "why?" Mattiessen's motivation in joining Schaller's expedition into the Himalayas is not explained; and it's not until P109 that I grasped the answer. Mattiessen had no scientific, financial or cultural reasons to embark. While he never really answers my question directly, the fact that he is wrestling with some personal demons; that he is recently bereft; and that the mystical and religious aura of the mountains and its people hold a deep fascination for him, all this seems to sum up his reasons for going. The possibility of seeing in person the elusive Snow Leopard might be considered the obvious goal but I doubt if that alone would merit the effort it took. For Mattiessen, the hardships of the journey (and they are enormous) seemed to be of little importance. So while this is structured as a travel story, the physical journey is only a sideshow.
Mattiessen has a great love of the natural world and that comes through in his beautiful, rich descriptive prose. And the final stages of the trek as they near their goal at Crystal Mountain, struggling with altitude, snow, cold, uncertain trails, finally deserted by all their porters, is hair-raising stuff. There is much to applaud here.
But there are just too many problems that got in the way of my ability to enjoy the book, beginning with the the many pages of Buddhist-inspired philosophical meandering, contemplation and self-analysis, bolstered with a detailed examination of the history, beliefs and practices of the numerous religious cults that dominate the region. There were times when I wondered if his prior experiments with mind-altering drugs had addled his brain. I consider him an undisciplined writer, digressing in odd directions, sometimes in mid-sentence. He has an annoying habit of referring to various people he encounters in an off-hand way, dropping a name here and there seemingly out of context and seldom providing more than a passing remark or two to explain who those individuals are, how they relate to him and to each other, whether he finds them trustworthy, congenial etc. I eventually gave up trying to sort them out and most of them remained shadowy figures. Much of the book reads as if taken directly from field notes without any supporting narrative. Had he chosen to visibly insert field notes verbatim, interleaved with cogent explanatory commentary, I would have found it more readable.
In the end, I was left feeling that Mattiessen tried to write a travel narrative, an environmental argument, a natural history study, a compendium of Asian religious thought, a meditation and a personal testament — all in one book. To his credit, he almost succeeded.

m
miaone
Oct 27, 2016

Exquisite. Magical. Memorable. I read it in 1989, and when I finished it I opened it again to the first page and read it all over again. Nearly 3 decades later I still recall parts of it. With a grandson now of my own, I can still feel choked up when he wrote about singing "you are my sunshine" to his toddler son who said, "I'm your sonshine, right, Daddy?" This book is on my list to have if I were stranded on that proverbial desert island.

f
fred98115
Oct 26, 2016

I gave this an A grade. The author's wife has died from cancer and he is lost. A fellow scientist and friend invites him to accompany him to Nepal and aid in animal research. Matthiessen agreed and they set off with porters and sherpas from Pokhara. On the surface, Peter wants to see the rare snow leopard, but beneath that is a search for himself after the loss of his wife. His journal is the basis for this book, a winner of the national Book Award.

l
lukasevansherman
Jul 06, 2016

Part travelogue, part nature study, and part spiritual odyssey (my least favorite kind of odyssey), "The Snow Leopard" is Peter Matthiessen's 1978 National Book Award winner about the author's travels in the Himalayas. Mathtiessen writes well and I liked the travel parts far better than the mushy b.s. enlightenment spiritual quest aspect, which I found unbearable. Matthiessen's other major books include "At Play in the Fields of the Lord" and "Far Tortuga."

d
dianagroth
Jul 31, 2014

November for Book Club

b
Bart082006
Sep 13, 2013

This book did a lot to enhance my appreciation of nature an in particular being in high remote places.

s
sess430
Dec 09, 2012

I loved this book which won a National Book Award in 1980. The author said to Dr. Schaller (who invited him on the 250 mile hike into the Himalayas), "if I can't get a good book out of this, I ought to be taken out & shot." I think he succeeded beyond his wildest expectations. His description of the foreboding yet beautiful scenery & the feelings it evoked in him is spell-binding. He describes it as "walking into the past."

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