Summary: Chapter 14: Equilibrium

Mortenson’s daughter is born at home. She is named Amira Aliana (Amira means “female leader” in Persian and Aliana was the middle name of Mortenson’s sister). Mortenson learns that Jean Hoerni is dying of cancer, and he quickly returns to Korphe to record the completion of the school, as Hoerni very much wants to see pictures of the building. In Korphe, Mortenson uses his nursing skills to save the life of a village woman after she suffers from complications delivering her baby. He also confesses to Haji about his kidnapping and Haji advises him to let local people help in identifying the best places for new schools. Haji gives Mortenson a ledger in which the villagers kept careful track of how the school money was spent. When the last work is finished on December 10, 1996, the villagers celebrate completion of the school. Mortenson returns to America with the pictures and takes his family to Idaho, where Hoerni is in the hospital. Hoerni insists on tacking a picture of the school to the hospital wall. After Hoerni is moved back to Seattle, Mortenson goes there to stay with him. He nurses Hoerni until the end. Hoerni passes away on January 12, 1997, and Mortenson later delivers a eulogy at the memorial service. Hoerni leaves the CAI an endowment of $1 million to ensure that the organization is able to continue its work.

Summary: Chapter 15: Mortenson in Motion

A surprise phone call notifies Mortenson that he is the subject of a fatwa, or religious indictment, issued by a cleric in the Braldu Valley. The cleric faults Mortenson for educating girls. Mortenson refuses to bribe the cleric and instructs Parvi to find a more powerful religious figure who will stand against the fatwa. Reluctantly, Mortenson leaves his family and returns to Pakistan, where he gathers all of his allies for a meeting. He is determined to quickly accomplish as much as possible, in case the fatwa succeeds and he is forced to leave Pakistan. He buys a Land Cruiser and launches new construction projects. In six months, Mortenson oversees the building of three new schools and the addition of rooms in existing schools that were overcrowded. He also sees to it that teachers at another school are paid. In Korphe, Sakina asks Mortenson for a place where the women can gather, and the CAI provides a Women’s Vocational Center for the village. It is equipped with sewing machines, and a tailor is brought in to help the women learn sewing and weaving.

Mortenson has asked Jean Hoerni’s widow, Jennifer Wilson, to create a board of directors for the Institute, and at this point in the story a number of new supporters are introduced. One is Jennifer’s sister, Julia Bergman, a librarian who takes on the task of selecting culturally appropriate books for CAI schools. Another is Tara’s brother, Brent Bishop, a climber who helps Mortenson found Pakistan’s first mountaineering school. The school offers training for porters and includes a program to clean up some of the waste left by previous climbing expeditions. Mortenson adds his informal Pakistani staff to the CAI payroll and has a successful first meeting with the powerful Shiite cleric Syed Abbas. At the end of August, everyone—including Tara and Amira—gathers in Korphe for a celebration and dedication of the school. Jean Hoerni’s ashes are scattered into the Braldu River.

Analysis: Chapter 14 and Chapter 15

In Chapters 14 and 15, the early, developmental phase of Mortenson’s mission comes to an end and a more active phase begins. Everything begun so far reaches a climax in “Equilibrium.” Mortenson’s romance with Tara reaches a new level with the birth of their daughter. His role as Hoerni’s apprentice is completed when Mortenson becomes the caretaker and Hoerni acknowledges Mortenson as being like his own son. Mortenson subsequently becomes much more focused, and in “Mortenson in Motion” we see how he expands and intensifies his mission. Accordingly, the two chapters have different tempos. The language and tone of “Equilibrium” move slowly and deliberately, while “Mortenson in Motion” goes at a quick pace, rapidly introducing and re-introducing characters and building a catalog of accomplishments. The plot in these chapters begins with a birth, continues through Hoerni’s death, and concludes with a celebration of life at the inauguration of the Korphe school.

Many of the events in the section revolve around Jean Hoerni, though Hoerni himself appears only intermittently. Hoerni’s imminent death prompts Mortenson’s early return to Pakistan, and spurs Mortenson on to complete the school. Hoerni also plays an important role to Mortenson personally. He becomes Mortenson’s last patient, giving Mortenson a feeling of closure about his former nursing career. At the same time, Hoerni opens the door to Mortenson’s future by leaving a substantial amount of money to the CAI. We see a different dimension to Hoerni’s gruff persona just before his death, when he insists on going home for a few hours to send flowers to old friends. In Chapter 15, Hoerni’s gift continues to bear fruit as Mortenson ramps up the aid program in Pakistan. Finally, in a symbolic act near the chapter’s end, Mortenson pours Hoerni’s ashes into the waters of the Braldu.

“Mortenson in Motion” is, in its action, a quick catalog of people and events. On a deeper level, however, it examines the potential for unity. There are three pivotal scenes, beginning with the meeting in the Indus hotel. Mortenson has gathered all of his Pakistani allies around one table, and we have the opportunity to meet again with old acquaintances like Mouzafer and Ghulam Parvi. We also meet new people who have joined the mission. Mortenson sees the camaraderie around the table as an indication that unity is possible, even among differing ethnic and religious groups. Later, he meets Syed Abbas at a gas station, and although the encounter is brief, it is another important indication that there can be understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims. In the final scene, people from all over Pakistan converge on Korphe for a celebration, and they are joined by a diverse group of Americans. The school has become a symbol of how cooperation and compromise can lead to accomplishment.

Chapter 15 additionally depicts the growth of the CAI into a full-fledged organization and the radical expansion of Mortenson’s vision. At the start of his project, Mortenson feels driven by his promise to Korphe, and he does not look further than a single school. After he gains support and his financial resources grow, he considers building more schools, then begins thinking about other aspects of education, such as expanding existing schools and paying teachers. As he connects with other people, he becomes aware of additional opportunities and responds quickly. For example, the women of Korphe introduce an idea that he had not considered—a place for women to gather. Once he sees the value of this notion, he decides that every CAI school should include a Women’s Vocational Center in the future. By the end of the year described in Chapter 15, the mission has grown to include not only the climbing school that had been discussed many months before, but also an environmental program that will remove waste left behind by careless visitors to K2. Thus the celebration in Korphe marks both the completion of Mortenson’s original mission and the expansive possibilities that have grown out of his impulsive promise.