Fiction by James Munves
In James Munves’s novel Andes Rising the reader is confronted with a mystery. What happened to Thomas Cooper? A scientist who had worked on the Manhattan Project and attended the disarmament conference following World War II, he had quit his job, left his family, and gone off to Colombia, South America on an ornithological project undertaken by the Peace Corps. His friends and family have lost all track of him. Finally his mother persuades her rabbi to go down to Colombia and find out if Thomas is dead or alive. What the rabbi eventually finds is Thomas’s journal filled with notes about his bird studies, ruminations about life (to which the rabbi responds), and pages from the work of Chapman, the early 20th-century ornithologist who collected specimens for the Museum of Natural History. Flashing through all is a rare tanager with turquoise markings. The director of the project wants Thomas to bring in a specimen of this bird, “If what is being prepared is another extermination,” Thomas writes, “I am not going to abet it by pushing another bird to extinction.” But is he slowly going mad? Does he die in an avalanche, or is he somewhere among the birds of the Andes?