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The Ascent

by Jeff Long

William Morrow, New York, NY, 1992; 284 pages

The winner of the 1993 Boardman-Tasker Award


“In making the Award at the Alpine Club in London, chairman of the judging panel Terry Clifford said: It is quite simply the best mountaineering novel we have ever read. It is a deceptive book, written as a thriller and marketed as an airport novel. The plot is so gripping that it carries the reader through the subtle mysteries of the relationships, symbolism and political manoeuvrings at a first reading.
Here is an accomplished writer in full command of the potential of the medium, able to write a thriller that asks important questions about the human dynamics of climbing, about doing the right things and about human rights in Tibet.”

Mountain Review no. 5

“Jeff Long's second novel describes an attempt on the north side of Everest. The route, the "Kore Wall," is "an imaginary monster," but it often feels very real indeed. One of Long's strengths is his ability to make the mountain a ferocious mass of rock and ice, hurling debris upon its puny challengers. The cold, the wind, the whole hostile environment are rendered with vividness and force. (…)
The Ascent is nothing if not ambitious. It links the expedition with the tragedy of Tibet itself: a graveyard and gulag garrisoned by Chinese troops and overrun by 7.5 million Chinese colonists. Thus Long brings to Base Camp a Tibetan monk, Wangdu, savagely tortured by the Chinese, who are determined to keep him in the country, alive or dead. Wangdu becomes a touchstone for the moral qualities of the climbers; some take risks to defend his ebbing life, while others betray him with little conscience. (…)
For all its strengths, the book has a crucial weakness: its characters lack strong definition. They are less interesting than their actions imply. (…)
Although The Ascent may disappoint admirers of the very promising Angels of Light, its achievement remains considerable. Long is a bold writer, ready to address major subjects and expert at describing the harsh environment of the big mountains. As in the earlier novel, he has perhaps more material than the narrative can bear, but in the end, he draws the threads of his story together: Wangdu, Diana, the bond between Daniel and Abe. He fashions a fitting conclusion to his violent and sobering tale.”
Steven Jarvis, “American Alpine Journal” 1993, p. 308-309

“In American mountain fiction, few have dissected the climber's mind with more disquieting accuracy or bolder power than Jeff Long. Long has never retreated from huge emotions or difficult cerebral confrontations, and early in this book when a transient character declares "there's no right or wrong in the mountains ... there's just whatever happens," that premise is established. As Long eventually demonstrates, morality is a human construct that follows us everywhere. There is always right and wrong, and what we contend is only its shadings. (…)
The Ascent incorporates all the ingredients of a high-octane climbing tale — and more. Still, those familiar with Long's considerable literary skills may question his development of characters. The male team members — Stump, Carlos, J.J., Jorgans, Robby, and Thomas — are relegated role-players only, representatives variously of the typical military expedition chief, the culturally sensitive alpinist, or the cheery basecamp support climber. And one could complain about Long's presentation of women. They at first appear extreme and stereotypical, with Gus as the quintessential hardwoman who can match loads with any guy, and Kelly playing the blonde expedition poster-girl. To Long's credit, both of these key characters gradually develop fuller, more believable personalities. (…)
This is clearly an accomplished climbing novel, one full of adventure and ambition. At the same time, it convinces me again that the great climbing novel is yet to be written.”
Jim Vermeulen, “Climbing” 1992, June/July, p. 138-140

“Whether writing fiction or nonfiction, Long quests for truth. Touching on the broader themes in The Ascent, he said in a recent interview, I tried to compare mountaineering and imperialism, both American and Chinese.... I'm suggesting maybe we ought to look at ourselves, too. What the Chinese did to the Tibetans, we did 100 years ago. We called it the Wild West, and our Tibetans were the Sioux, the Cheyenne and the Apache.
Though passionate about these issues.b Long is first and foremost a superb writer who agrees that....what distinguishes us from the other animals is our ability to tell stories. Ultimately, it is through our stories that civilization becomes a little more informed and a little more enlightened.  In The Ascent, Jeff Long has accomplished both these aims and has entertained the reader as well. Even Melville couldn't ask for anything more.”
Sally Moser, „Rock & Ice” 1992, September-October, No. 51, p. 90





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