Whenever I travel, I like to bring along a book to read. This is particularly true when I take a cross-country flight. When you fly out of Flagstaff, there are going to be connections to be made, and layovers to endure. During layovers, I enjoy reading newspapers, especially local papers. Everywhere, it seems, the news is the same—murders, mayhem, zoning fights, corruption—and that’s just on the wedding announcements page. On the plane, a book requires less space to enjoy it.
On a recent trip I read Pure Land: a True Story of Three Lives, Three Cultures and the Search for Heaven on Earth, written by Annette McGivney and published this year by AUXMedia, a division of Aquarius Press. Ms. McGivney is a member of the Journalism faculty in the School of Communication at Northern Arizona University. Full disclosure: I am a part-time instructor in the Journalism program at NAU.
The book has three narrative threads. The central thread is her investigation into the brutal murder of Tomomi Hanamure, a young Japanese tourist, in Havasupai Canyon, on May 8, 2006, her 34th birthday. The second thread is the story of the man convicted of the murder. His name is Randy Wascogame, an 18-year-old Havasupai man at the time. The third thread is the story of the author herself and the personal crisis triggered by her research for this book.
Murder investigations make compelling reading. Ms. McGiveney does a thorough job of research and she is unafraid to connect cause and effect backward through time in a compelling case for the societal influences at play in the crime.
Favorable reviews abound. What hasn’t been acknowledged sufficiently, as far as I know, is the power and importance of the third narrative thread. It is the story of her realization of the physical abuse inflicted upon her as a child by her father. The unfolding story is the slow, unintentional exhumation of repressed memories of those frequent beatings. Anyone who has been physically abused by a parent will empathize with the stratagems and delusions Ms.McGivey invented to rationalize the irrational.
To do this, to express and expose the injury and collateral damage that begins childhood and clings like a cancer to the psyche of the adult child of an alcoholic, is a contribution to the world few writers are willing to make. I don’t think I’m being hyperbolic here. Ms. McGivney could well have written the book without the personal narrative: an extended investigative piece about a horrible crime, its beautiful victim, its tragic perpetrator, committed in “Shanghai-La.”
It took courage and a compelling commitment to honesty to share what unfolded for her personally and how the crisis she endured led to a healing change in her view of herself and her father.
I think it is this thread that is the most important aspect of the book. The bibliography alone is worth the price of the book.
The crime story is an excellent read—well conceived in the telling, well written at the line. The personal story, I think, is what will most affect readers.