Peter Matthiessen was born May 22, 1927 in New York City. He was a student at Hotchkiss boarding school and Yale. He recently passed away on Saturday at the age of 86. Peter Matthiessen was author to more than 30 books, and with his death he leaves behind a legacy few could match.
Peter Matthiessen was mostly known for his non-fiction stories. Books such as The Snow Leopard, published in 1978, where he details his adventures in the Himalayas. This autobiographical book regards his collaboration with naturalist George Schaller in the search for an endangered snow leopard. The book had become immensely successful and could be considered being one of Matthiessen’s most popular books. The Snow Leopard went on to win two Nation Book Award in the category of Contemporary Thought.
Although Peter Matthiessen is better known for his non-fiction, the legacy he left behind was his passion for writing fiction. Even though he was born into a life of privilege, Matthiessen lived a life of humbleness. He was widely known for practising Zen Buddhism and for exploring the power of the human spirit in his books. According to him, fiction allowed him to dwell into characters and stories without the restraints of reality. Fiction allowed him to separate himself from the dissatisfaction of everyday life.
His very last book is the ironically titled In Paradise. Peter Matthiessen himself said that this would be his last book, and was quite right. The book’s title is a reference to the Bible where in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus’ crucifixion was told. The reason Matthiessen chose this title is because he accounts for his trip to the notorious Auschwitz. In Paradise was meant to be homage to the millions of people, Jews and Christians alike, who lost their lives in such a horrific way. In Paradise is written in Matthiessen’s iconic style of writing: with an attention to detail that makes his non-fictional account sound poetic. Matthiessen mentioned that being there was indescribable; to retell the gruesome fate that so many had to deal with while being surrounded by well-fed tourists made it impossible to visualize the reality of World War II.
One of Peter Matthiessen’s biggest focuses in his books was environmental issues. In his classic volume The Tree Where Man Was Born he is able to masterly chronicle the landscapes and people he met in East Africa. He records his time he got to spend with native tribesmen; describing the daily life of herdsmen and hunter-gatherers. He poetically enlightened his readers with mental pictures of predator kills, exotic and endangered animals, and the political, sociological and natural trials and tribulations of the area.
Peter Matthiessen is the only person to have ever won a National Book Award for both fiction and non-fiction. He was well-known for being a man who did not worry about death and the afterlife, but about living life to the fullest, while he still had the chance. Even though he is dead, Peter Matthiessen’s legacy about the complexity of humans is something left behind for future generations to enjoy.
Opinion By Ignacio Gatti