In a world that seems connected by the mere touch of a computer key, is there any place left where life goes on as it did during ancient times, separate and idyllic, uncontaminated by modernity? The vaunted novelist, traveler, and National Book Award winner Bob Shacochis decides to find out. “There’s so little left of the world,” he writes in “Between Heaven and Hell”—a new Byliner Original in the tradition of travel narratives by Peter Matthiessen and Colin Thubron—“where men and women live their lives in the luminous presence—and ominous throb—of its physical sacredness.”
Toward this end, he enlists his intrepid wife, Cat, and flies to Nepal, where they join up with a mismatched band of travelers, including the so-called Bangkok Bachelors, two adventurers who arrive “stewed in whiskey and well-ingested recreationals.” They mount horses and set off toward the ancient kingdom of Mustang, a land formerly forbidden to outsiders, where they traverse rocky, windswept deserts, climb vertiginous slopes, and creep along terrifying cliffside paths that find Cat, with her fear of heights, frozen in place, unable to go a single step further. Thank goodness for the nightly cocktails in the tents!
In the course of their travels, they discover an imperfect paradise, an old world in which the citizens of Mustang are trying to gain entrance into a new order of economic opportunity and political freedom. “Between Heaven and Hell” is both an eloquent tribute to the trekker’s ideal of an unspoiled realm and a poignant testament to the inevitability of change even amid the icy, enduring altitudes of the Himalayas.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
National Book Award winner Bob Shacochis is the author of six books, including “Easy in the Islands,” “Swimming in the Volcano,” and “The Immaculate Invasion.” His long-awaited second novel, “The Woman Who Lost Her Soul,” which he describes as a prologue to 9/11 and the centuries-old conflict between West and East, will be published in the fall of 2013. Shacochis lives in northern New Mexico and Tallahassee, Florida, where he teaches at Florida State University.