Pure Land

Unknown

 

One of my favorite travel souvenirs is to purchase a book in a local independent bookstore. While on our Arizona road trip, I visited the adorable Bright Side Bookshop in Flagstaff, where an awesome bookseller recommended local author Annette McGivney’s Pure Land.

In Pure Land, McGivney expands on her 2007 article that she wrote for Backpacker, that explored the brutal murder of a Japanese woman, Tomomi Hanamure, who was stabbed while hiking in the Grand Canyon. Pure Land is part memoir, part social commentary, and part true crime.

As McGivney was researching the story, she began to experience triggers from her own abusive childhood and this article took on a greater meaning. McGivney flew to Japan and became close to Hanamure’s family, learning that the woman had been abandoned by her mother at a young age and was raised by a single father. Hanamure always felt a pull towards the United States, specifically the National Parks of the South West and Native American culture. Hanamure was killed by Randy Wescogame, an eighteen year old meth addict living on the Havasupai reservation, who also had a history of childhood abandonment and abuse.

“Pure Land” refers to the Buddhist belief of the ultimate afterlife, the place where a person who has learned everything from earth, through multiple reincarnations, will finally go to rest. Hanamure comes from a Buddhist background and her family prays that she has made it to Pure Land to find peace. However, it also takes on a different meaning with McGivney’s book, as we can imagine that Hanamure and others find their own Pure Land when they are at peace in nature. Perhaps even Wescogame is on his way to Pure Land, while healing in prison, or maybe McGivney is finding it, as she moves forward from her childhood trauma.

Pure Land is a powerhouse. I could not put it down. The story is heartbreaking, but McGivney explores it with compassion and care. I was fascinated with the way that Hanamure felt drawn to a foreign culture, so much so that she worked minimum wage jobs to just save enough to meet her travel expenses. Her entire focus was on her trips to the United States. Her passion for the United States was not shared with her family and friends, yet she was not deterred. By all accounts, she also came across as an unusual soul by those who encountered her during her travels, yet she seemed to own this aspect of her life. It’s crushing to think that someone could have so much love for a land and its people, yet it led to her violent and untimely death.

Pure Land also explores the devastating and complex history of Native Americans and their treatment by the United States government. Through centuries of systematic racism, many tribe members that maintain their autonomy of tribal lands are facing a crisis with poverty, violence, and addiction. McGivney looks at the history of how this has happened and specifically how this life has impacted the Havasupai. While she certainly doesn’t forgive Wescogame’s crime, she does explore his life within the context of living in a tribe that has experienced incredible hardships. I was most interested in reading about the founding of the National Parks. The National Parks are the treasures of the United States and I think most citizens ( and foreign visitors) hold them in the highest regard, but the dark side of the history of the parks includes the displacement of Native tribes, forcing them from their ancestral lands.

McGivney gets specific with regard to the Havasupai, who now have a deeply impoverished reservation on a small piece of land in the Grand Canyon. Crossing through their land is the only way to access one of the most stunning parts of the canyon, a place where Hanamure was headed when she was murdered. The Havasupai tribe has made efforts to attract tourists, including building a small, heavily fortified lodge and offering guides. However, the problems that exist on the reservation make this a very dangerous area and not everyone is welcoming or profiting off of the tourists.

Although we think of National Parks as a places that should be open to all, this particular section of the Canyon is controlled by the Havasupai. It is their land. They have little with regard to ways of making an income and whether they want to or not, allowing tourists brings in much needed revenue. Their willingness to allow tourists to pass through reeks of slum tourism, with the tourists not just passing through on their hike, but also gawking at the shocking poverty on the reservation. The Havasupai that are able to make a living off of the tourists are doing the best with what they have, however reading this made my stomach hurt. The only reason that they are in this situation is because they were forced to give up their lands and forced to accept a rotten deal, yet now they are again pressured into allowing tourists to traipse through their home. I imagine that if they did not allow the tourists to pass, that the government would find a way to intervene on the tourists behalf. It’s a terrible situation.

Pure land is an important read from a historical and societal perspective. McGivney’s writing is heart breaking and haunting. I can’t imagine that I will ever forget this book.

Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg: One Comedian’s Tour of Not-Quite-the-Biggest-Cities in the World

1482189255509

 

Thank You to Gallery Books for providing me with an advanced copy of Todd Barry’s, Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg: One Comedian’s Tour of Not-Quite-The-Biggest Cities in the World, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Comedian Todd Barry shares travel notes from his experiences playing secondary markets ( smaller cities/venues), during 2015/2016.

LIKE– Previous to reading, Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg, I had not heard of Todd Barry. I requested a review copy of his book, because I liked the concept. I like off-the-beaten-path travel logs. I was a clueless about his sense of humor, so I went in with no expectations. I read, Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg, last night, during my flight from California to Oregon. Would Barry be my ideal travel companion?

Yes. Todd Barry made my two hour flight seem like seconds.

It was a risk going in without a familiarity with Barry’s comedy, but I quickly discovered that we have a similar sense of humor. Barry’s quirks and annoyances, like his self-diagnosed Misophonia, had me laughing. As I was currently dealing with air travel, I commiserated with his travel issues, such as a woman trying to guilt him into giving up his aisle seat. The nerve! I enjoyed his behind the scenes perspective of being a traveling comedian, the pains and joys of being on the road. What I most loved about his travel diary, was his recommendations. Hell yes, I’m going to visit the “railroad car/ future home of a corn dog restaurant” in Oklahoma. Cape Fear Serpentarium in North Carolina, I’m coming! Barry’s love of local coffee houses and sightseeing is right up my alley.

Barry’s witty observations reminded me of one of my favorite authors, David Sedaris, who always makes me laugh until I cry, when he reads from his travel diary during his live shows. The funniest stuff comes from observing other people, things too bizarre to make up.

DISLIKE– Not so much a dislike, but a suggestion; although, Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg, is a quick read, don’t do it in one sitting. If I had parsed it out, I would have found it more enjoyable. I felt like I rushed it. Don’t rush Barry, he deserves better.

RECOMMEND– Yes. I’m sure his fans will be delighted, but even as someone with zero familiarity with Barry, I found, Thank You for Coming to Hattiesburg, to be a highly entertaining read.

 

The Not-Quite States of America: Dispatches From the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the USA

1484863049372-1

 

Thank You to W.W. Norton & Company for providing me with an advanced copy of Doug Mack’s The Not-Quite States of America: Dispatches from the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the USA, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Doug Mack’s The Not-Quite States of America: Dispatches from the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the USA, is part travelogue and part history lesson. Mack travels to Puerto Rico, The U.S. Virgin Islands, America Samoa, The Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam, to meet the people who inhabit these lands that are “not-quite part of America,” and to better understand their history and culture.

LIKE– I consider myself fairly knowledgeable when it comes to US History, but Mack has opened my eyes. I had no idea that the United States still has so many territories or that it is so darn muddled regarding the rights of the people living in these areas. I felt a little relieved, when early in his book, Mack, a travel writer, admitted to also being unaware of the full extent of these territories. This made me feel less clueless and in good company. I enjoyed tagging along with Mack, as he visits these islands. Mack’s sense of humor and his interactions with the locals, blends well with the history and politics of each island.

Admittedly, some of the politics and legal talk of territories can get a little dry and very confusing, however, Mack puts it out in layman terms, so if I read it carefully, I felt like I was gaining an understanding. My overall impression of the situation is that it is complicated and there is no one solution. I was surprised by the high number of people from the territories serving in the US armed forces, yet depending on where they live, they may not have very many rights. I was shocked by how the rights can vary dramatically from each territory, depending on status ( incorporated/ unincorporated, commonwealth, organized/ unorganized). Seeing how messy this all is, coupled with a general lack of interest or knowledge that most US Citizens have towards the territories, I doubt we will be adding any new states in the near future. It’s even presumptuous to think that people in the territories necessarily want statehood. Mack is perceptive with his noting how the idea of colonization is very distasteful and not politically correct, yet colonies are essentially what America still has, even if we call them territories and try to play “out of sight, out of mind.”

Some of the history, for example the connection between World War 2 and Guam, was familiar. Currently, with North Korea ramping up its nuclear capabilities, and other nations in the Pacific, feeling on edge, these small islands are becoming more valuable for their strategic positioning in future wars. Each country wants to grab what they can in the Pacific for their own security. Mack speaks of this towards the end of his book and it gave me the chills. Speaking of chills, I was gutted when I read about the thousands of Japanese citizens, including families with small children, committing suicide off of a cliff in Saipan (Northern Mariana Islands) after learning that they had lost WW2. I’m sure that story will forever stick with me.

DISLIKE– Nothing. The Not-Quite States of America has left me a better informed citizen, it has given me a new perspective.

RECOMMEND- If you’re an American citizen, you should definitely add The Not-Quite States of America, to your reading list. Mack is an entertaining writer and his book is important.