Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tenzing of Everest, by Yves Malartic

Yves Malartic contrives to write an autobiography of Tenzing Norgay in his Tenzing of Everest. At best, the book can be called a novel based on true events, as much of its contents is false. In his later English-language biography, Tiger of the Snows, Tenzing states that Malartic had only a short interview with him and did not inform Tenzing that he would be writing a book with the material. It comes out in Tenzing of Everest, as Malartic takes a kernel of truth and wraps it profusely with hypothetical and conjured material. It would take a book to list the mistakes in this one, but I'll share a few. A running problem is that Malartic considers Sherpas Mongolian, even tracing their heritage to Genghis Khan. Malartic falsely states that Tenzing joined the Chitral Scouts, and conjures a military career for him. My favorite is that Malartic believes Col. Hunt and Tenzing signed a contract at Darjeeling before their climb that states that Tenzing would be on the summit team.

Malartic has a particular animosity towards the British. It's an interesting change of perspective to read them portrayed as heartless colonialists who seek to take every advantage of their Sherpa underlings. He believes Col. Hunt also needed Tenzing to guide them up the mountain, and most importantly to lead them to the stores and oxygen cylinders the Swiss left behind, as they were essential to his plan. There's an interesting role reversal I appreciated (though it is grossly over-portrayed) in Tenzing pulling Hillary out of the crevasse in the Khumbu Icefall with Hillary flopping over the edge like a fish pulled from the sea, which can only be a knock on Hillary's comment about Tenzing's ascent of the chimney near the summit. One bit of fresh air in this book is Malartic's portrayal of the Swiss attempts, which is pretty much correct, as I imagine he had access to an account of them in French. Unless you're looking for a bit of Rum Doodle, don't bother with this book. For a good biography of Tenzing, read Ed Douglas' Tenzing: Hero of Everest.

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