Summary: Chapter 8: Beaten by the Braldu
Mortenson realizes that he needs to store the building materials in Skardu until he can arrange transportation for the rest of the trip to Korphe. He goes to Ali Changazi, who made the arrangements for Mortenson’s earlier K2 trip, and Changazi agrees to keep the goods in his warehouse. Akhmalu, a cook from the expedition, appears and persuades Mortenson to fulfill his promise to visit Akhmalu’s village. At the village, Mortenson finds himself the object of an unexpected dispute. The two groups that are arguing both want Mortenson to build his school there, but they have different ideas about the type of school it should be. Mortenson says he has promised the school to Korphe, but the villagers quarrel through the night while eating the feast intended to impress Mortenson. Akhmalu reluctantly takes Mortenson back to Skardu, where Mortenson becomes suspicious when Changazi will not show him the stored supplies. Next, Mortenson travels to Changazi’s village and finds himself faced with another feast and another campaign to get the school. Mortenson is so frustrated that he storms out of the gathering and refuses to communicate until Changazi agrees to take him to Korphe. The Balti men finally give up, and Mortenson tries to be more understanding of their behavior. He and Changazi arrive in Korphe after crossing the river by cable car. The villagers welcome Mortenson warmly, just as he had envisioned. Haji, however, stuns Mortenson by saying that they must build a bridge across the Braldu before they can construct the school. Otherwise they will have no way to transport supplies across the river.
Summary: Chapter 9: The People Have Spoken
Mortenson returns to San Francisco expecting a reunion with Marina, but she has gone back to her previous boyfriend. In addition, Mortenson is fired from his job because he failed to return on schedule. A flashback explains that Mortenson had spent two months in Korphe learning about the requirements for the bridge, which will be expensive and difficult to build. The villagers were patient and had faith in him, so he left Korphe determined to accomplish the task. The narrative returns to America, where Mortenson has found another job but still feels depressed and defeated. Losing Marina seems different than previous break-ups, and he needs time to deal with his emotions. He is too intimidated to call Jean Hoerni again and has no idea how else to raise money for the bridge. Fortunately, he receives an unexpected phone call from a noted climber, Dr. Louis Reichardt, who was one of the first Americans to reach the summit of K2. Mortenson and Reichardt have spoken a few times before, and Reichardt has heard about the school project from Jean Hoerni. When Mortenson tells him what happened in Korphe, Reichardt offers encouragement and urges him to call Hoerni, saying Hoerni can easily afford to fund the bridge. Mortenson, who has great respect for Reichardt, feels a return of his old self-confidence. As the chapter ends, he places a call to Hoerni.
Analysis: Chapter 8 and Chapter 9
Chapter 8 presents a series of episodes that are both comical and poignant. Mortenson finds himself the target of aggressive “marketing” by canny villagers, determined to convince him that their village, rather than Korphe, should have the school. They set out arrays of fancy food, which they proceed to eat while arguing among themselves. Part of the humor comes from Mortenson’s helplessness in the face of their onslaughts. Although Mortenson keeps trying to explain that he is committed to Korphe, he is too stunned and too polite to put a firm end to the proceedings. The occurrence of two such “marketing” campaigns heightens the humor. However, it is significant that Mortenson finds perspective on the events afterward. Although he is frustrated by the behavior of Akhmalu and Changazi, whom he had assumed to be trustworthy, he realizes that they and the other villagers are acting in part from desperation.
Chapter 9 represents a turning point not only in Mortenson’s mission, which becomes much more complicated, but also in his personal life. To this point, Mortenson has been able to move his school-building project forward simply by pushing ahead. His determination, combined with a considerable amount of good luck, has been enough to help him succeed. Building a bridge, however, requires that he put building the school on hold and refocus his energies on a project that demands a great deal of coordination and planning. Though Haji’s request for the bridge shocks Mortenson at first, he eventually realizes that it’s necessary, and he recognizes his own failure to plan properly. As he tries to deal with this problem, he stays on in Korphe to plan the new project, and it apparently never occurs to him that his girlfriend, Marina, and his job may not be waiting when he finally returns to California. The chapter title, “The People Have Spoken,” has a double meaning. It refers directly to the decision in Korphe that a bridge is required. Indirectly, it also refers to the decisions of his girlfriend and his boss, who are no longer willing to put up with his impulsive, disorganized approach to life.
In these two chapters, Relin shows Mortenson dealing with problems he does not expect and does not know how to resolve. Though Mortenson manages to extricate himself from the comical feasts, he is quickly hit by another delay, this time concerning the bridge. After the difficulties he encounters in Pakistan, he thinks returning to America will be a relief, but the opposite is true. He has no job and his girlfriend has left. As a result, in Chapter 9 he finds himself alone and adrift, his personal resilience finally exhausted. He again feels like a disappointment, echoing his feelings in Chapter 1. The suspense in Chapter 1, however, was about how Mortenson would survive on the mountain, whereas the suspense in Chapter 9 is about whether he will regain his self-confidence. Mortenson believes he may have finally failed until he gets the unexpected call from Louis Reichardt, who suggests that Mortenson call Jean Hoerni to ask for funding to build the bridge. The advice offers Mortenson the encouragement he needs to carry on with his plan to build the school in Korphe.