Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text's major themes.

Outsider Perspectives on Pakistan

Relin regularly introduces excerpts from the writings of other people who have traveled in or studied the region. In the first part of the book, these come from explorers who have traveled in the region. Significantly, two of the explorers are women: Dervla Murphy, an Irish nurse who rode across the Karakoram on horseback with her young daughter and wrote about their explorations in Where the Indus is Young; and Helena Norberg-Hodge, who wrote about the region in her book Ancient Futures. Norberg-Hodge lived for seventeen years in the Himalayan country of Ladakh. There are also observations about the Balti people from Fosco Maraini’s Karakoram: The Ascent of Gasherbrum IV, an account of a 1958 Italian climbing expedition. In later chapters, Relin provides quotations from articles written about Mortenson, as well as excerpts from theories on girl’s education and political issues in Central Asia. Incorporating these different voices both adds support for Mortenson’s conclusions about the area and provides a broader context for his personal observations and experiences.


Building the schools requires a number of sacrifices from Mortenson and from the local villagers involved. When Mortenson begins his Korphe project, for instance, he spends practically everything he has on the project. Where previously his money went toward financing his climbing trips and his outings with Christa, now he spends the money for the benefit of others. Rather than ask Hoerni for money to pay his way back to Korphe, Mortenson sells all his possessions—including cherished books and his grandmother’s car. Even after becoming successful, Mortenson continues to make sacrifices, taking as little money as possible from the CAI and leaving his family alone for months at a time. Of the sacrifices offered by the local villagers, the most dramatic is Haji Ali’s decision to give twelve rams (half of the village’s wealth) as a bribe to a neighboring chief so construction of the school can proceed in Korphe. In each of these instances, the person gives up a material object, whether a car or a ram, to achieve a greater goal, specifically education for children in rural Pakistan, suggesting that the sacrifice isn’t really a sacrifice at all but an investment. As Haji Ali puts it, the children of Korphe will have their education far longer than the rams would have lasted.


Numerous coincidences in the story affect the direction of the plot, such as the fact that Mortenson’s fall and Christa’s death occur at nearly the same time. Then his wrong turn leads him to Korphe instead of another village, where he might not have been welcomed so warmly. Later, Mortenson takes a job in the hospital where Tom Vaughan works, and that decision leads to his connection with Jean Hoerni. When Mortenson stays in the Rawalpindi hotel where Abdul works, it turns out Abdul has the necessary connections to help Mortenson start his project. Both George McCown and Julia Bergman meet Mortenson by chance, and both become important supporters of the CAI. McCown’s guide, Faisal Baig, even becomes Mortenson’s bodyguard. Another fortunate coincidence occurs when Jahan bursts into the men’s meeting to ask Mortenson about money for school, ultimately convincing journalist Kevin Fedarko to write a feature about Mortenson for Parade, bringing Mortenson to national attention. These lucky accidents demonstrate that Mortenson is not entirely responsible for his own success. He owes many of his achievements to different people he happened to meet that either provided him with help or gave him guidance on how to accomplish the next step in his school-building project.