I must be crazy to have been drawn to a story about a woman who loved to solo travel across the country but ended up being brutally murdered on one of her trips. So many people tell me all the time how it’s not safe for a woman to travel by herself. But if you’ve been following this blog, you know I believe that is rubbish. I had heard of the story of Tomomi Hanamure, a Japanese tourist who was stabbed to death as she hiked to Havasu Falls in the Grand Canyon. But the book “Pure Land” by Annette McGivney dives so much deeper into the story and person of Tomomi, as well as her murderer.
I was drawn to the book because on the surface I felt Tomomi and I had a few things in common. We both loved road tripping, national parks, and dogs. But although her end was tragic, I knew it was rare. And even when I told others what I was reading, a little too delighted in their shock, I did not take it as a cautionary tale.
McGivney’s writing of Tomomi paints a wonderful picture of the person she was. And as I read further into the book, she made me feel like I knew Tomomi in the real world, like she was one of my friends that I have made through Hike Like A Woman. McGivney’s skill made this possible and the fact that Tomomi’s father gave the author her journals. And in the book “Pure Land” you really get a sense of who Tomomi was. You also get a really good sense of why road tripping through the American West alone was so important to her. And it was one reason, I felt so connected to her.
The author felt this connection as well.
That is why Tomomi’s father felt safe in allowing her to have her journals. He knew she would not do her, the story, or her family a disservice.
But Tomomi isn’t the only character that you really get to know in this story. The book “Pure Land” also introduces you to Billy Wescogame, the 18-year-old Havasupai who stabbed Tomomi 29 times. And in McGivney’s writing, you end up feeling almost just as sorry for Billy as you do for Tomomi. But not quite, because even though she shows how his life’s circumstances set him up for failure, she still leaves the question of whether or not he is a psychopath.
The book “Pure Land” does a wonderful job of educating its readers on the generational plight of Native Americans. Instead of simply saying, “We wrong them when we kicked them off their land,” it dives deep into many blows they as a people suffered, especially the Havasupai. You see how and why drug use and poverty are such problems on reservations. I really enjoyed learning the history of this. And learning exactly how forced removal and our history has contributed so much to this problem.
McGivney also dives deep into her own history with trauma. However, this part didn’t speak to me personally as much. I was more interested in learning about the history of Native Americans and the story of Tomomi. But I do love how the book “Pure Land” ties all three cultures together in a compare-and-contrast way.