Cover image for When mountains walked
When mountains walked
Wheeler, Kate, 1955-
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Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, [2000]

Physical Description:
375 pages ; 24 cm
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Named a "Best Young American Novelist" by GRANTA, Kate Wheeler received numerous awards and the highest critical acclaim for her story collection, NOT WHERE I STARTED FROM. Francine Prose wrote, "This is a book you mention to your friends . . . Wheeler is a writer to follow, wherever she chooses to travel." In her much anticipated first novel, Wheeler takes readers to opposite ends of the earth in a story of passions that weaves together past and present. WHEN MOUNTAINS WALKED tells of two parallel love affairs, years apart, in places as remote as the deepest canyon in the world, as vast as the Indian desert. In the 1940s, Althea Baines follows her seismologist husband to the heart of the Indian subcontinent to trace the origins of earthquakes. Here, awakening to a form of spirituality she had never imagined, she eventually finds solace with a Hindu priest. Years later, her granddaughter Maggie follows her own idealistic husband to a canyon in central Peru to set up a health clinic. Alive to the culture and the place, Maggie falls recklessly in love with a revolutionary leader and follows him on an apocalyptic trip into the rain forest. The lives of the older and younger woman echo and illuminate each other as each gets swept up in her own time by powerful forces. This is a novel about love and compromise, about the difficulties of establishing an identity in the midst of extravagant desires. Like Wheeler's short stories, WHEN MOUNTAINS WALKED features American women seeking love and enlightenment in distant parts of the world. As the NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW said of her, "Wheeler has a capacity for compressing the insights of cross-cultural dislocation into deliciously memorable epiphanies." Romantic and wise, evocative and compassionate, WHEN MOUNTAINS WALKED reaffirms Kate Wheeler's reputation as one of our most captivating writers.

Author Notes

Kate Wheeler's debut collection of short stories, "Not Where I Started From", was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award & was named a New York Times Notable book. She is the recipient of a Whiting Award & has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation & the NEA.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The promise of Wheeler's Not Where I Started From (1993), and of the numerous awards she's received, has been brought to fruition in this powerful novel of cultural displacement, compromise, and love. As is often the case, quirks of temperament, such as intuitiveness, passion, stubbornness, and a taste for adventure, have skipped a generation, rendering Althea and her granddaughter, Maggie, soul mates. Althea traveled the world with her seismologist husband until their infant son died in Peru, after which she sequestered herself in a convent in India from which she emerged transformed by prayer and pregnant. Now Maggie has returned to her grandmother's Peruvian haunt to run a modest village medical center with her husband, Carson. Fluent in Spanish and preternaturally attuned to the land, Maggie feels more Peruvian than gringo, an orientation that quickly destabilizes her marriage, and allows her to fall precipitously in love with a revolutionary. Personal upheavals are matched by political turmoil when Carson discovers that a mining operation is polluting the river and causing the birth defects and illnesses he and Maggie must confront. As Wheeler dramatizes their attempts to do good under these daunting circumstances, she offers provocative insights into the quandaries American activists inevitably face on foreign turf. Matters of survival, prejudice, and exploitation, as well as quixotic searches for meaning and truth, are all put into play within Wheeler's exquisite descriptions, vital inner monologues, and unforgettable story. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Eagerly awaited since Wheeler's debut short story collection, Not Where I Started From, this atmospheric, insightful and suspenseful first novel confirms the ambitious range and depth of her literary skill. The narrative intertwines the story of two women struggling to define themselves in the vortex of overbearing men. Assigned to Peru as health care workers, Maggie Goodwin and her husband, Carson, find themselves in Piedras, a remote, primitive village set in a deep river canyon, not far from where, 60 years earlier, Maggie's grandmother, Althea, and her husband, seismologist Johnny Baines, suffered the tragedy of their baby son's death. In alternating accounts, Wheeler depicts both women's lives, each of them suffocating in the shadow of a domineering, ambitious husband and facing wrenching dilemmas concerning the father of the babies they have conceived. If these mirror-imaged lives seem too conveniently symmetrical, Wheeler adroitly emphasizes their differences as well. Now 79 and dying, Althea made a momentous decision in India, and preserved her marriage at the expense of truth. Maggie wants to emulate her grandmother's adventurous life, but knows Althea is emotionally dislocated from her true identity. Smoldering against Carson's chauvinistic behavior, Maggie is drawn to Comandante Oquendo, aka Vicente Quispe Cruz, the benevolent leader of a failed terrorist group called Black Rainbow, now in hiding from the Peruvian military, whose dealings in the cocaine trade brought fleeting semiprosperity to Piedras and fostered democratic cooperation among its citizens. When Carson discovers that the Canadian owners of a privatized gold mine in the hills above the village have callously poisoned the district water supply with toxic effluents, causing malformed babies and serious health problems among the peasant populace, he and Maggie enlist Vicente's support. Vicente exhibits the bravery and intelligence of a natural leader, and his innate idealism stands in contrast to Carson's stubborn self -importance. It is inevitable that Vicente and Maggie become lovers, and that her naivete about their future together will lead to a crisis culminating in Maggie's transformation from an easily cowed marital subordinate to a courageous, morally sure woman. Maggie's epiphany occurs when, alone and hiding from soldiers in the forest, she finally understands the nature of selfhood and of commitment, and determines the direction of the rest of her life. Wheeler's descriptions of the interior of Peru are both lush and graphic, conveying the "pulsing, vivid heat'' in sensuous terms, the abject poverty of the villages as well as the harsh beauty of the landscape. Ably articulating the themes of a woman's role as wife and mother in a patriarchal society, and the political realities that occur when relentless economic deprivation victimizes people in Third World cultures, she has written a psychologically lucid and emotionally resonant novel. Agent, Denise Shannon. 3-city author tour. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Wheeler, an award-winning short story writer (Not Where I Started From), specializes in tales featuring Americans caught up in foreign cultures. Her first novel (whose title refers to earthquakes) is no different. Maggie has followed her husband to an impoverished Peruvian village to provide free health services. In a politically unstable environment, they attempt to ingratiate themselves with the suspicious locals. After treating too many newborns with deformities, the couple accuses a mining company of polluting the water. Maggie begins an affair with a fugitive revolutionary and eventually flees with both him and her husband as they become political hotcakes. Maggie's grandmother makes regular appearances throughout the novel, showing the intertwining of the two women's fates. Although this book is sensitively written, its vague, unsatisfactory ending leaves the frustrated reader wondering at the destiny of every character. Recommended for larger public libraries.--Carol J. Bissett, New Braunfels P.L., TX (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.