Turn Again to Life by A. Zukowski is a beautiful little gem of a mystery about women climbing in the 1920s as a setting and involving a love story with a twist, and it is a love story, so much more than a romance.
It’s the present day, and the writer of the story is Dr. Chan, a social and cultural historian, whose first name we never learn as she writes in the first person. She has the task of finding the identities of two women climbers whose remains were found by the French climbers on the north side of Mont Blanc. The climbers photographed the bodies, removed their effects, and then the women we re-buried.
Heidi Niedermann is Dr. Chan’s partner and a mountain climber who runs trips for female climbers to the high Alps. Heidi is a modern-day counterpoint to the twentieth-century story and provides our narrator with a sounding board for her ideas of places to look.
Dr. Chan also picks Heidi’s brains about the ideas and ethos around why people climb and specifically why women climb, and her thoughts help solve the mystery.
The narrator Dr. Chan considers herself slender, physically weak, and studious. She is a bespectacled historian who studied at Oxford and wears ‘monochrome shirts, trousers, and coats like a permanent upside-down exclamation mark.’ During her mystery-solving journey, we find that she’s tenacious and submerged into her mystery to the detriment of all else. She is forgetful of the time, and her work consumes her.
I love the way Zukowski describes Heidi as having weathered cheeks, bright tawny eyes, and short strands of sun-bleached hair. Put that with ‘rugged and bold, strong muscles filling her bulk,’ and you are in the story instantly. Heidi has as much an obsession with her climbing as Dr. Chan does with her research. Hence the feeling that they are opposites and yet they complete each other, understanding as they are of each other’s needs.
The Writing Style
The mystery is solved as we learn more about climbing in the 1920s and particularly women climbers. We find out about life for intelligent and adventurous women in that time as well, and the history is written in such an engaging style. As we progress, Dr. Chan finds out more about the two women until the climax, which you think you know the answer to. I can only say you probably don’t.
The book has an easy style, but the particular attraction of the story for me, comes from the descriptive word choices. The character quotes above are good examples. I will enjoy the words in the rest of the book for some time to come.
My Favourite Parts
You may look at the blurb and expect to understand the story. Two women found dead at the top of Mont Blanc, and the information will tell us who they are, but you would be shortchanging yourself. The mystery is delightful in the solving, and while we all know the ending, the story behind it, fact and fiction, is unexpected.
Turn Again to Life has been my favorite book this year. The research is sound and the results absorbing. It is well written, and with some superb descriptions. It is well worth an afternoon of your time. You may need a tissue too.
Excerpt from Turn Again to Life by A. Zukowski
Our heads hovered over the atlas as we examined the area.
I continued. “The most dangerous part of climbing is usually the descent, when the climbers are exhausted and sometimes disoriented. The days are short…” I read the familiar names. “This area, the death gully—Grand Couloir—has claimed a lot of life, right?”
“Why do you think the bodies were hidden for so long, given the number of climbers up Mont Blanc these days?” I asked.
“Global warming. Quite a few bodies have been discovered recently up Mont Blanc as deep ices and snow melted, though they were not usually of this age. They had either fallen into a crevasse or an avalanche had claimed them. They were buried deep, compacted into ice—only revealing themselves again as our natural world changed.”
The two women had allowed us to rediscover them now when the significance of their last moments could find new meanings. Their discovery was no accident, and my involvement was fate.
I believed in fate.
They might have been from the past, but they were also about the present and, if we let our minds be open, the future. I gazed at the photographs again, willing them to tell me something new and spill their secrets.
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781786454621
- Publisher: Beaten Track Publishing
- A. Zukowski Online
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