On The Page: Pure Land

You know those books that you read breathlessly, hanging on each word but yet rushing on to the next one? Pure Land  was one of those books. I don’t have a whole lot of time to read these days so I got some reading in Thursday night, and then Saturday after I got home from EMT class, I dove into it intending fully to relish the rest of the book.

This is not to say that Pure Land is a happy story. Or a story where you don’t know the ending. It is the intersecting story of Tomomi Hanamure, a Japanese woman deeply in love with America’s West, a young Havasupai man named Randy Wescogame, and the story of the story teller, author Annette McGivney.

Tomomi was murdered on hike to Havasupai Falls in the Grand Canyon in May of 2006. A regular solo traveler of the United States, Hanamure was lured off the trail by Wescogame and brutally stabbed to death. McGivney entered the story when she wrote “Freefall” for Backpacker in 2007.

Through this deeper telling of the tale of intersecting lives we meet Tomomi’s father, Randy’s father, the woman who compassionately helped Randy come to a confession, and others who have insight into the people involved in this tragic story. It was no surprise what the ending of the story was but yet, it felt necessary to read.

For me personally, however, McGivney’s weaving of her own family story of abuse and recovery into the book was the most astounding. It seemed a part of the story alone until she mentioned the idea of a trauma bond with an abuser. I finished the book and put it down on my makeshift nightstand. I did what any self respecting Millennial would do and I unlocked my phone and turned to Google. The idea of a bond that pulls the abused tighter to the abuser made my breath catch in my throat. Unlike I would have years ago, I locked the phone, buried my head in Sprocket and went to sleep. The gut punch of years of isolation has finally started to fade with the salve of community, achievement, and progress.

I almost feel like I need to re-read Pure Land. I identified so much with Tomomi and Annette that I feel like I ignored Randy, perhaps the least surface sympathetic character but yet one affected by the deepest, multi-generational traumas. McGivney does an excellent job of making all of the people in the book real and complex.

Pure Land is not just a book about the outdoors, although it is, it’s also about the struggles of the Havasupai tribe and its individual members. It’s also about creating your own life and balancing it with family. It’s about living. A lot of times when I give you an “On The Page” report, I talk about who would enjoy this book. Whoever you are, reading this, go read it.