High Valley by Charmian Clift and George Johnston

High Valley is set in China and Tibet. It embraces customs of the Tibetan valley community. The Valley of the Dreaming Phoenix is full of vivid colour:

‘Each day was a gem of ever-brightening lustre. He was enchanted by the beauty of the high pastures: it was loveliness of a quality he had never known before, because its beauty had the frailty of something one knows to be transient. It was the quality of a flower plucked at the supremacy of its blooming. It was a beauty already steeped in its own decay and so made the more beautiful for its promise of ill-fate.’

Salom, is a Chinese orphan left after the communist army retreated from Tibet. After being raised by the inhabitants of Tibet he returns to China and is encouraged by the Ch’eng, the old pedlar, to search for a Holy Grail. During this journey there is a romance between Veshti and Salom, who die in each others’ arms beneath the snow. It is delicately and sincerely written and does not fall into sensationalism.  The sweeping literary quality and sumptuous descriptions carry the romance. The Phoenix Valley almost becomes a character in its own right, as the significance of it threads through the novel. The headman of the valley warns Salom ‘Do not fight against the valley… for always the valley wins.’  The exotic and remote places and the accessible characters carry universal themes. Belief, culture and philosophy are addressed in this quest allegory.  The two lovers meet the tragedy their birth ordained. Clift provides the literary beauty, style and characterisation. Elements of death and happiness are repeated themes in her writing. The novel won a Herald literary competition in 1948 and launched the career of the authors.

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