the snow leopard

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The Snow Leopard
By Peter Matthiessen
368 pages; Penguin Classics

Why Your Book Club Will Love It: Nothing brings book-club members together like a spiritual journey set in an exotic location. (Matthiessen wrote his classic before Eat, Pray, Love, and Wild but the messages still hit home).

The Burning Questions: How do we live in the messy, sorrowful, beautiful now? Also—will the author ever find that snow leopard?

What to Bring to Your Meeting: A big, open heart.

In 1973, Peter Matthiessen trekked through Nepal with field biologist George Schaller. For Matthiessen, whose wife had died the previous winter, it was both a physical feat and a spiritual quest. Schaller was there to study blue sheep, while Matthiessen wanted to find the Lama of Shey, and both men hoped to glimpse a rare, beautiful snow leopard—which becomes a metaphor for our deepest searching. Matthiessen records nature's splendors—luminous mornings, "sun shafts and dark ravines," heroic flowers poking through snow—as well as the heartbreaking poverty and challenge of the hike. After seeing a child "dragging bent useless legs ... like a broken cricket," he writes: "I look at paradise askance. Along the Modir, my feet are hurt by sharp rock shale, and where we make camp in the village of Gijan, we pick off leeches: while taking rice supper in a local hut, GS investigates wetness in his sneaker and finds it full of his own blood. " His examinations of life's most profound questions are equally clear-eyed. Matthiessen died in 2014 but this modern classic will never grow old.
Dawn Raffel