ALL ELEVATIONS UNKNOWN: An Adventure in the Heart of Borneo

Sam Lightner, Author Broadway $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7679-0756-9

First-time author Lightner, a well-known rock climber, presents a memorable if somewhat problematic travel-adventure memoir of his 1999 climb up Borneo's Batu Lawi, an all-but-unknown peak in a rough jungle. He approaches the peak armed only with regional maps, none of which show the mountain, and a book called World Within, a travel memoir published in 1958 by Tom Harrisson, a British officer who parachuted onto the mountain during WWII to establish an Allied base. Drawn to Harrisson's book, Lightner intersperses chapters about his climb with chapters retelling Harrisson's story, building dramatic tension to the climaxes of both tales. He occasionally refers to his funding from a hiking supply company, and one sometimes wonders how sponsorship affected the story, though to Lightner's credit, the narrative seems free of commercial agenda. More problematic are the imagined dialogues between Harrisson and his colleagues; Lightner admits they are based on second- and third-hand accounts, and the conceit feels strained. "Although it is not pure history, it comes very close," Lightner claims. Harrisson settled on Borneo with a Kelabit (a local ethnicity) wife and helped the island improve its educational and political structures. But Lightner's own story, his natural flair for writing and the inspiration he derives from Harrisson's life would have been sufficiently interesting to support a more traditional approach to Harrisson's tale. As it is, though, this remains a wonderful introduction to an island and culture known to few people. 3 maps. (On-sale date: June 12)

Reviewed on: 05/28/2001
Release date: 06/01/2001
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