James Munves

Andes Rising

“A compelling theme - that professional and political necessity precludes simple appreciation for the visible world’s plenitude and integrity - is expressed here with considerable passion. But the story suffers from information overload…”
--Kirkus Reviews

“This is a mystery novel which combines ornithology, politics and a search for God that resembles the work of Joseph Conrad at his best...Andes Rising is a haunting and strange little book that will have you turning the pages slowly and going back to read passages again and again.”
--Kell Robertson, The Santa Fe New Mexican

“James Munves has written a first novel that just might become a cult classic among the young, save-the-planet set. . .Munves has conjured up a very intriguing mystery. Trouble is, he tells it in such an elusive manner that too much of the mystery remains. Andes Rising is beautifully written, but as spare and as unyielding as one of those self-referential modernist poems.”
--S.T.Meravi, The Jerusalem Post

“Few other books will make one ponder as long or as deeply about birds - our knowledge of them, our need for that knowledge, how we attain it, how else we might acquire it. Few books will make us think so directly about how our own study of birds has effected our views on or acceptance of God and the creation/​evolution of life. This is not an easy book to read (it is non-linear in its form), but it is worth the attention of any birder who has thought seriously about the big issues.”
--Todd Mark, Birding (one of the four Americans kidnapped and later released by rebel guerrillas)

“Thoreau had Walden Pond, Melville had the vast ocean; Cather had the golden Nebraska prairie, and Faulkner had the Yoknapatawpha woods, in which to stalk his mythical bear. Jewish writers, by contrast, have primarily contributed ‘city scriptures.’ As literary critic Martin Baumgartner put it, to the rich canon of American literature, Jewish American fiction and nature writing have pretty much remained mutually exclusive genres. On the infrequent occasions when they have set their sights on the realm of non-human nature, Jewish American writers have more often than not, depicted this realm as altogether treuf for their protagonists. Remember, for example, Saul Bellow’s town of Ludeyville in Herzog (1964), a ‘remote green hole’ in the Berkshires? Or the seductive tree-lined park of Cynthia Ozick’s The Pagan Rabbi (1966), which tragically lures her rabbi-protagonist from the Judaic realm? Or, more recently, in Philip Roth’s sardonically titled American Pastoral (1997), Old Rimrock, New Jersey, a verdant exurb that also lures a protagonist from his immigrant Jewish soul? If they know what’s good for them, Jewish characters generally remain, like Alfred Kazin, walkers in the city. All of which makes James Munves’s Andes Rising, a novel that seriously engages the South American rain forest through a distinctively Jewish consciousness, an intriguing literary occasion indeed.”
--Andrew Furman, Jewish Forward

Andes Rising is not exactly a bird-watching book, and it’s certainly not a travelogue, but it did bring back the flavor of being in the Andes….The story is something of a mystery…searching for a missing person, for a rare tanager, for the right path among the many difficult choices in life…a story that touches the reader on many levels.”
--Ruth Benn, The Non-Violent Activist

“An extraordinary exercise in drama, irony and erudition. I felt as though I were climbing rather than reading; the novel a kind of map or handbook in hand. . .Let the reader beware. Ever so slowly the story in unmasked, is transformed into a parable.”
--Daniel Berrigan, S.J.

”[Thomas Cooper’s journal entries] and the rabbi’s comments on them, make up most of this richly textured short narrative. Cooper’s writings inspire more questions than answers: Could he have engineered a ‘fatal’ avalanche? To what purpose? Why did this former Manhattan Project scientist desert job and family for a Peace Corps bird observation assignment in Colombia? What was really behind his refusal to collect a rare specimen? Are his philosophical musings evidence of self-absorption, or do they imply a miraculous spiritual revelation? Disturbing yet exhilarating reflections haunt the rabbi for decades after his search for Cooper. Readers may find similar intellectual stimulation in this challenging debut novel. Recommended for most fiction collections.”
--Starr E Smith, Library Journal

“The story is at once personal and all-embracing, with a fascinating dose of introspection, an uncommonly observant eye for bird life, and a strong dose of ornithological history and exploration of the Colombian Andes.”
--Steven L. Hilty, ornithologist, senior author of A Guide to the Birdlife of Colombia

Andes Rising, as uneven as the mountains themselves and with several mountaintop views, assembles the following: A California rabbi, part mystic and part chicken-soup practical, who sets out in search of: A middle-aged physicist, sickened by his work on nuclear weapons, who joins the Peace Corps in Colombia and mysteriously disappears there. He had devoted himself to studying Colombian birds; his model and imaginary antagonist was: Frank Chapman, an eminent ornithologist who from 1908 to 1935 shot and set up the specimens in the vast bird collection at the American Museum of Natural History.

“From these, James Munves has put together a fanciful artichoke of a novel. It consists of spiral leaves and a heart, but the leaves are of assorted shapes and flavors, and some are missing; and though they lead to the heart they do it erratically and only partly attached. The heart is a parable about the conflict between progress and the irreplaceable particulars of humanity and nature...Despite such holes and haste, Andes Rising does some remarkable things. Mr. Munves beautifully evokes Thomas’s temporary Eden. The discussion of birds, the detailed distinctions of markings, and habitat go on at length; yet they are not tedious. On the contrary, they are uplifting. They are part of the theme.. .

“Against odds, the parable largely works. So does the recurring dialogue between an unraveling Thomas and the dead Chapman…All the while, Rabbi Teitelbaum has been scrawling comments on the pages of the diary. He is pedantic, captious, perplexed. 'Can birds be a religion?' he wonders. In Talmudic fashion, he wrestles until he sees that they may be. ‘Is Thomas saying plowshares are no better than swords? Shades of Isaiah and Micah! A terrible question. Everything we do causes suffering?!’ the rabbi scrawls… Bit by bit, Teitelbaum in the Andes has wrestled Thomas’s contemporary ecological protest back to the ancient irreconcilable mysteries. Mysteries they remain.”
--Richard Eder, The New York Times

“this is all rich material, and too my mind it deserves rich treatment. But for whatever reason, James Munves has chosen to tell his tale in an atmosphere as thin as that which surrounds the misty heights of the Andes. On the positive side, Munves has the touch of the poet. And his rabbi, despite the California credentials, is no fool….Underwritten as it is, Andes Rising is clearly a novel for the nervous end of the 20th century.”
--Matt Nevisky, Washington Jewish Week

“a layered text . . .at least three levels of detection and commentary. Thomas wonders why he is searching for the bird; the rabbi wonders why he is searching for Thomas; and the reader must wonder whether the texts of Thomas and the rabbi his midrash on the journal - are ‘true.’ The novel is surely a ‘book of questions’ to quote that strange collection of texts by the Egyptian-Jewish writer Edmond Jabes.”
--Irving Malin, The Hollis Critic

Selected Works

History,
A Short Illustrated History of the United States from 1776 to 1964
How the American people lived and worked, struggled for justice, and achieved world power
History
Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence.
changes in different drafts of declaration, draft by draft
The Kent State Coverup
about the shootings at Kent State University, May 1970
Fiction
Andes Rising
Missing nuclear physicist, exotic bird lore, puzzles of evolution, in a new heart of darkness.