Sherpa is strongest when he reflects on his surroundings with a critical lens. His abusive father dies when he is six and the author is contrite about the arrogant teenager that he briefly became. On the few occasions that Sherpa offers specifics, he leaves the reader wishing for more. But key moments like meeting and marrying his first wife in Nepal and then leaving to the States are passed over in a perfunctory manner, with little emotional texture.
Much of the book, however, is essentially ‘anthropology-lite’, trading in cultural generalities and historical half-truths. Bridging Worlds would have benefited from a read-through by someone well-versed in the cultural history of Nepal, as infelicities such as ‘Rais, Tamang and Lumbus chetree’ would have been weeded out.
Sherpa reflects on the threats to his culture and language, the latter of which he imagines may be ‘destined for extinction’. While globalisation exerts complex pressures on indigenous communities, and the Sherpa are no exception, there are exciting examples of Sherpa cultural and linguistic resilience in the diaspora, such as the United Sherpa Association and the Sherpa Kyidug in New York City.
Contemporary Sherpa scholars such as Pasang Sherpa at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma are documenting this resurgence. Bridging Worlds could have engaged more with diaspora Sherpa cultural life and move beyond predictable and linear narratives of diminishment.
Pemba Sherpa describes his concern about the ‘sheer number of outsiders (Nepalis of other ethnic groups) presently living in Khumbu’ whose presence in the region is ‘worrisome for Sherpas who are concerned about preserving their traditional culture’. Such sentiments must be carefully scrutinised: the in-migration of non-Sherpas into Khumbu is at least in part the result of Sherpa economic mobility and their own out-migration for better opportunities.
How might the author respond to citizens of Boulder, Colorado, let alone the original Native American groups who have lived there for generations before colonisation, raising concerns about the settlement of Nepalis in the United States, a land far from their own? When expressing unease about socio-cultural change, we must locate ourselves as participants and not bystanders in the process, and assume our share of the responsibility.
Overall, Pemba Sherpa emerges from this book as a kind and compassionate man. He makes a strong case for why he never climbed Everest: ‘I believed an expedition on Everest ran counter to the spirit of climbing’. He is articulate about the inequities and destructiveness of the climbing industry as a whole.
Sherpa mobilised quickly following the 2015 earthquakes that rocked Nepal, raising funds for relief and reconstruction in his shattered homeland, and his writing becomes energised when he is emotionally invested in the outcome. The proceeds of Bridging Worlds are dedicated to improving the lives of Nepalis.