I felt that the frenetic, hard-boiled prose in the opening pages of James Ramsey Ullman’s 1954 Near-Pulitzer (the last of the six for ’54! Yay!), The Sands of Karakorum, was an interesting reflection of his subject matter and the times. Set in China during the Communist revolution, in the far lung of that great conflict we call the Cold War, it was a time of perceived absolutes (East vs. West, i.e.); melodramatic speech-making; frenetic, hard-boiled, film noir prose, etc. To Ullman’s credit he doesn’t continue long in this vein of propagandic pageantry, but soon ventures into the strange, near-fever-dream qualities of a pilgrimage across the great central wastes of Asia and a battle for humanity’s soul.
To Ullman, or at least to some of Ullman’s characters, man’s world is crumbling. Communism is a failure, Christianity is a failure, mankind sits on the threshold of nuclear annihilation, and the only hope is in a leap of faith into and from the rubble of twentieth century institutions and their predecessors. If Ullman had lived long enough to take in the many films starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator I think he would have really gotten something out of them, though, perhaps, not what many of us come away with. (Namely, an intense adrenaline rush.)
Things certainly did look grim through much of the central portion of Ullman’s life (Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China), it’s perhaps little wonder that he spent so much of his time climbing mountains (first Pulitzer-associated author I’m aware of that has “mountaineer” thrown in among his descriptive life roles) and getting away from and above it all. If a book about that sort of thing (mountains, that is) sounds appealing to you, consider checking out Ullman’s 1945 book, The White Tower. Sources say it might be his best. If you’re more into the impending doom sort of stuff, check out this book, The Sands of Karakorum. It’s quite a ride and mostly worth taking. That said, perhaps you don’t find yourself with much time for reading. Let me recommend a movie. Summer 2015 has brought us a new Terminator movie, and though the reviews are less than congratulatory, with Arnold being back and all, well, we probably don’t have to abandon all hope yet. A little adrenaline high to help take one’s mind off of things could do us all some good. We’ve all got to find a way to get “away from it all” one way or another. Not everyone has access to mountains.