At least 12 Sherpa guides died Friday on Nepal's side of Mount Everest when an avalanche buried them on the world's tallest mountain.
The death toll may go higher: The Himalayan Times reports that while 12 bodies have been recovered, an additional body "has been sighted buried in the snow" and that as the day ended another five Sherpas were still missing. CNN quotes a Nepalese Tourism Ministry official as saying at least four Sherpas were still unaccounted for. We will watch for updates.
Regardless of the final toll, it's the single deadliest day ever on Everest — surpassing the eight deaths in May 1996 when a storm struck. That tragedy was the basis for the bestselling book Into Thin Air.
According to Reuters, the avalanche "hit the most popular route to the mountain's peak ... between base camp and camp 1." CNN says the site of the disaster is about 20,000 feet above sea level. Everest's peak is an estimated 29,035 feet above sea level.
This is the climbing season on Everest, which more than 4,000 people have successfully climbed. About 250 have died on the mountain that borders Nepal and Tibet, Reuters notes. The Sherpas who were killed Friday and some climbers had in recent days been setting ropes, preparing camps and acclimating to the altitude, CNN reports.
While dangerous, Everest is not the world's "deadliest" mountain, according to various analyses. As The Daily Beast has noted, Nepal's Annapurna has a "death rate" of nearly 38 percent — or, as The Telegraph has put it, Annapurna has "the highest fatality-to-summit ratio of any mountain over 8,000 meters [26,247 feet]." While about 160 people have reached the top of Annapurna and returned, at least 60 have died trying.
Everest's death rate stands at about 6 percent. Other mountains with higher death rates than Everest, according to The Daily Beast's calculations, include:
— K2, which straddles China and Pakistan (23 percent)
— Nanga Parbat, in Pakistan (22 percent).
— Kangchenjunga, on the border of India and Nepal (19 percent).
The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.
- The instantly recognizable man with the immaculate white moustache was a novelist, but he was also a journalist, a political agitator and a celebrity with a reach unlike any writer since Mark Twain. When Gabriel Garcia Marquez died Thursday at the age of 87, presidents, authors, actors and pop stars made public statements. Colombia, his native country, declared three days of mourning. Marquez often said that he disliked his fame, but he used it to promote political and social change, using, for example, his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1982 as a platform to talk about the "oppression, plundering and abandonment" of Latin America. He called for a "new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth." That same year, he told The New York Times that "the problems of our societies are mainly political. And the commitment of a writer is with the reality of all of society, not just with a small part of it. If not, he is as bad as the politicians who disregard a large part of our reality."
- Romanian poet Nina Cassian died this week in New York City, where she has lived in exile since secret police under the Stalinist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu found her poems mocking the regime. She was 89. "She had always been fragile, one way or another — yet it was hard to think of her as anything short of immortal," her friend the documentary maker Mona Nicoara told The Associated Press. Cassian's poem "The Orchestra," which appeared in The New Yorker in 1990, ends with these lines:
"The orchestra is still. The score is blank.
Cold as a slide rule the brasses, strings, and flute.
Sonorous love, when will you return?
The orchestra is mute."
- The title of Hillary Clinton's forthcoming memoir will be Hard Choices — and not, as she joked, The Scrunchie Chronicles: 112 Countries and It's Still All About My Hair, a title submitted to a Washington Post contest to name the book. It is set to be published on June 10 by Simon & Schuster.
- Promiscuous book blurber Gary Shteyngart has announced his retirement from blurbing: "It is with deep sadness that I announce that the volume of requests has exceeded my abilities, and I will be throwing my 'blurbing pen' into the Hudson River during a future ceremony, time and place to be determined. However, I will continue to blurb the following individuals: all former, present, and future students of mine at Columbia University; authors of my Random House editor, David Ebershoff; authors of my agent, Denise Shannon; my B.F.F.s; authors who can prove they own a long-haired dachshund and are taking good care of same."
- Guernica's Jonathan Lee interviews Fiona McCrae, publisher of the independent press Graywolf. She says, "There are dozens of obstacles to any given book succeeding. If a book succeeds it always does so against the odds. The odds in one generation might relate to the fact that people would rather be watching television than reading your book. The odds in the next generation might be that they'd rather be on their computer than reading your book. Once it was that people would rather be riding a bicycle than reading your book. It doesn't do any good to be talking, as an author or publisher, about the obstacles."
This week's drum fills (and intros) were hand-selected, using only the finest ingredients, by Sean Carey. The former Bon Iver drummer, who writes and records as S. Carey, just released his second solo album, Range Of Light. I thought some of his picks for this week's puzzler were pretty challenging, but I managed to get three of the five right. See how you do!
A meditation on the lives of one multigenerational family in rural 1950s Ohio, Joan Chase's 1983 debut During the Reign of the Queen of Persia — just reissued — opens up a typical pastoral story with the inventiveness of four young girls, the novel's narrators. Directed by sisters Anne and Katie, and their cousins, Celia and Jenny, the narration traces the gradual dissolution of the Krauss family from their grandmother's childhood to the end of their own, after a lifetime on their Ohio farm.
But though it may seem at first to be a coming-of-age novel, During the Reign's purview extends far beyond the inner life and perspective of any single character, past the family and its farm into the way in which yarns are spun. Chase's novel is just as much about family histories and how we invent them as it is about the Krauss family and its young documentarians.
Chase's careful and layered construction, at once self-reflexive and quietly insidious, makes ordinary family tragedies into the stuff of myth, worthy of even the most fantastic tales of faraway places like Persia — or Cleveland. The novel centers on the five Krauss sisters, May, Elinor, Rachel, Grace, and Libby, mothers and aunts to the young narrators. Assorted husbands play supporting roles, as does the taciturn and solitary Grandad, who "did not talk to girls or women."
Then there's Gram, head of the family and Queen of the book's title. We first get an indication of Gram's MO when the narrators compare her to Queenie, the farm's wild and stubborn pony: "Uncle Dan said they had a lot in common, and although he didn't say exactly what, we knew Queenie was nearly impossible to catch, had thrown every one of us, racing for the barn. We knew she had what was called a high head."
The crux of Chase's moving portrait is that slippery yet authoritative narration. Though sometimes referring to "our mother" or "their mother," the narrators' "we" delivers a unified observation of family life. As the girls declare, "most of the time it was as though the four of us were one and we lived in days that gathered into one stream of time, undifferentiated and communal." The girls' experiences mostly color the book's descriptions and observations, seeping into the story's corners but rarely dominating the plot. They're a less voyeuristic version of the chorus in Jeffrey Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides, who, despite their eventual entanglement in the plot, are never the stars of the story
The girls also recount family stories from before they were born, and their masterful retelling lends them an eerie omniscience — just like an omniscient narrator, they seem to see everything — and if not quite everything, an awful lot.
It's through the girls' innocent yet wise remembrance that we see things fall apart, as in any myth. It starts when Grace gets sick; her death from cancer makes up the book's middle and the end of the family as they know it. Her suffering is drawn out for dozens of pages, bedside praying interspersed with tense family discussions in the kitchen, thanks in part to the arrival of bitter and mercurial Neil, Grace's mostly estranged husband.
Neil, with "a hot glitter about him that made him look mean" after his wife's funeral, delivers the novel's most biting pronouncement — ostensibly about his daughter, but directed at his sisters-in-law: "She'll always be dreaming about this place and this time, looking backward. Could be all of us should have gone on and died right along with Grace. Might be none of us will ever be quite alive again."
He turns out to be right. Anne and Katie leave the farm to live with their father, only visiting the farm during the summers. Later, after the girls have grown older, the barn burns one night — the only appropriate parallel to the family's gradual dissipation. When Gram decides to sell the farm and move into town, the girls feel "as separated from her as always, living on there, awaiting her decisions, with everything that happened heightened with the poignancy and solemnity of an old tale."
During the Reign of the Queen of Persia may be the darker cousin of the traditional family drama, but its value isn't all in its gloom and doom. Tragedy and violence run up against paeans to the Ohio hills and meditations on memory; kitchen conversations receive as much care and attention as those about death. With its formal inventiveness and wrenching story, Chase's novel is something to be savored, read slowly, thoroughly, and with your own mythical past in mind.