“eloquent and absolutely unpretentious”
“Newberg’s prose [stories] have a particular beauty all of their own”
“should be required reading for anyone going to Southeast Asia seeking more than a beach vacation or three weeks of drunkenness”
– Southeast Asia Travel Advice
Drawing on personal experiences living abroad, Love and the Ghosts of Mount Kinabalu presents three works of creative nonfiction set in Malaysia:
- Why Climb a Mountain?, a narrative essay, hunts down the motivations underlying the somewhat absurd idea of climbing a mountain. The brush is cleared away to reveal the search for a sense of significance in one’s life.
- Love and the Ghosts of Mount Kinabalu, which gives the book its title, is a six-chapter story of romance and solitude. A young teacher revisits an ex-lover on the island of Borneo, and finds more than he bargained for. When hopes for reunion evaporate, he goes on a journey to find himself in the rotting jungles. Meanwhile, a mountain said to be a place of ancestral spirits beckons from behind a shroud of clouds.
- Confessions of a Culture-shocked Alien, a story told in letters, reveals the experience of the same young man three years earlier as an exchange student in Penang, where he first meets the ex-lover from the second piece. In a Muslim country as the World Trade Towers fall and his own country retaliates, he confronts a foreign culture as well as an increasingly alien America. The pitfalls and switchbacks of living abroad lead him on a journey of self-discovery.
The three stories range from romance to rumination, but ultimately affirm the significance of life:
Mountains outscale us. They tower, they loom, they put us in our place. In their shadow, we feel insignificant. There is a sense of majesty and awe. When we climb mountains, we participate in that awe. It’s not that we become greater than the mountain, but that its greatness becomes part of us.
– excerpt from Why Climb a Mountain?
Love and the Ghosts has already received a glowing review from Asian studies scholar Jarrod Brown of Southeast Asia Travel Advice. Here is an excerpt from the review:
“B.T. Newberg’s book… is for those who come to a different place seeking something other than good times and pretty girls. It is the story of a quest for meaning, and one that stretches further than the individual to the edges of culture and beyond into an exploration of the universal human condition. The journey for the reader is not an arduous one, however, as Newberg’s prose have a particular beauty all of their own.”
“It is a rare treat to read something so obviously autobiographic yet so frank and open not only about what is happening around him but also what is happening inside of him in his thoughts and imagination. As a reader one feels almost embarrassed at times, as if one had slipped in and secretly began reading a diary one had found left in open [sic].”
“Perhaps it is a philosophical commitment to naturalism and humanism that motivates him as an author to “lay bare his soul” in a way not often encountered in prose and always obscured by literary pretenses in poetry. I certainly found philosophical parallels with existential humanism….”
What we encounter is not the glorification or bastardization of a place, people or experience, but instead what seems to be an authentic retelling, a man’s retrospective look at a slice of his life, defined by where he was, and the lessons and changes that time brought. As such, it has the potential to change the reader or at least to prepare the reader for transformation deeper than a Phuket tan.