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Here is the astonishing true story of Ruth Harkness, the Manhattan bohemian socialite who, against all but impossible odds, trekked to Tibet in 1936 to capture the most mysterious animal of the day: a bear that had for countless centuries lived in secret in the labyrinth of lonely cold mountains. In The Lady and the Panda, Vicki Constantine Croke gives us the remarkable account of Ruth Harkness and her extraordinary journey, and restores Harkness to her rightful place along with Sacajawea, Nellie Bly, and Amelia ...
Here is the astonishing true story of Ruth Harkness, the Manhattan bohemian socialite who, against all but impossible odds, trekked to Tibet in 1936 to capture the most mysterious animal of the day: a bear that had for countless centuries lived in secret in the labyrinth of lonely cold mountains. In The Lady and the Panda, Vicki Constantine Croke gives us the remarkable account of Ruth Harkness and her extraordinary journey, and restores Harkness to her rightful place along with Sacajawea, Nellie Bly, and Amelia Earhart as one of the great woman adventurers of all time.
Ruth was the toast of 1930s New York, a dress designer newly married to a wealthy adventurer, Bill Harkness. Just weeks after their wedding, however, Bill decamped for China in hopes of becoming the first Westerner to capture a giant panda–an expedition on which many had embarked and failed miserably. Bill was also to fail in his quest, dying horribly alone in China and leaving his widow heartbroken and adrift. And so Ruth made the fateful decision to adopt her husband’s dream as her own and set off on the adventure of a lifetime.
It was not easy. Indeed, everything was against Ruth Harkness. In decadent Shanghai, the exclusive fraternity of white male explorers patronized her, scorned her, and joked about her softness, her lack of experience and money. But Ruth ignored them, organizing, outfitting, and leading a bare-bones campaign into the majestic but treacherous hinterlands where China borders Tibet. As her partner she chose Quentin Young, a twenty-two-year-old Chinese explorer as unconventional as she was, who would join her in a romance as torrid as it was taboo.
Traveling across some of the toughest terrain in the world–nearly impenetrable bamboo forests, slick and perilous mountain slopes, and boulder-strewn passages–the team raced against a traitorous rival, and was constantly threatened by hordes of bandits and hostile natives. The voyage took months to complete and cost Ruth everything she had. But when, almost miraculously, she returned from her journey with a baby panda named Su Lin in her arms, the story became an international sensation and made the front pages of newspapers around the world. No animal in history had gotten such attention. And Ruth Harkness became a hero.
Drawing extensively on American and Chinese sources, including diaries, scores of interviews, and previously unseen intimate letters from Ruth Harkness, Vicki Constantine Croke has fashioned a captivating and richly textured narrative about a woman ahead of her time. Part Myrna Loy, part Jane Goodall, by turns wisecracking and poetic, practical and spiritual, Ruth Harkness is a trailblazing figure. And her story makes for an unforgettable, deeply moving adventure.
DEATH IN SHANGHAI
It was a bitter winter night, February 19, 1936, and on the outskirts of Shanghai, far from the neon and the wailing jazz, thirty-four-year-old William Harvest Harkness, Jr., lay in a private hospital, blood-stiffened silk sutures tracking across his pale abdomen. He was dying, and alone in his agony. His original expedition mates, four adventurous men with dreams of capturing the giant panda, had all deserted him long before. Though he knew people in the city from previous trips and more recent escapades in notorious nightclubs and bars, in the end he had stayed true to some deeper nature, pushing them all away and stealing off in secret. His family, including his young wife back in Manhattan, had no idea he was even sick. With what little strength he could summon, he had been writing sunny notes home that masked his horrible condition. Perhaps he really believed his own words, for just weeks earlier he had been pressuring the doctor to release him so he could get back to his campaign. But, finally, on this frigid night, scarred by other attempts to scalpel tumors from his neck and torso and wretched from his latest incision, he found himself unable to eat or drink, then even to breathe. The sportsman who lived to rough it in the wild died under starched white sheets, in a ward reeking of antiseptic. His young life had ended in the pursuit of the most mysterious animal of his time, yet he had never managed to set a laced boot in the great snow-covered mountains that separated China and Tibet.
A world away, back in the noise and lights and rush of Manhattan, it had been an even chillier winter, one of the snowiest and coldest anyone could remember. Late in the afternoon, on the very day her husband took his last breath, Ruth Harkness was making her way home from a salon where she had enjoyed a luxurious shampoo. Bundled up, she happily picked her way along icy sidewalks that were dusted with ash for traction and walled in by freshly shoveled snow. Friends were due for cocktails shortly, and in the larger scheme of things, she had even more to look forward to. Now that things were beginning to go well for Bill, she thought, he might just be home within months. Then the two of them could travel the world as they had always imagined.
But as she stepped inside her comfortable West Side apartment, before she had time to hang up her coat, her "pretty little mulatto maid" and her houseguest, Margaret Freeland, confronted her with the horrible news: Bill was dead. A cable message had been relayed by telephone.
Her first reaction was stunned disbelief. It was too awful to accept. This must be some fantasy of the press--reporters were fascinated by Bill and the other men of high adventure, but in their hunger for sensational stories, they were always getting things wrong. It had to be one of those false bulletins. Surely, over the course of the afternoon, that would become clear.
So she waited, as the winter darkness descended and lamps inside the apartment were snapped on. But hours later a telegram from Secretary of State Cordell Hull made it official. The love of her life was gone.
The devastation of that loss would consume her for weeks, and haunt her always. "Do you have that tremendous necessity of needing one person," Ruth Harkness would ask a friend in the bruised aftermath of Bill's death, "some person who understands you and trusts you completely in everything you do and you are--and ever can or will be? Someone with whom you can let down all barriers? All pretense of any kind and still be liked or loved? . . . That is what Bill meant to me and in...
When I first picked up this book, I thought to myself, how cool is that? The first women to bring back a live panda! But once I started the book it just slowly went downhill. To start, in the beginning it wasn¿t even about her, it was about her husband on the quest for the first giant panda. But once he passed away, she took up his hunt in china, and fell in love with her Chinese tour guide. But she did manage to bring back the panda. I found the book to have very slow parts to it and had way to much detail that was not needed. Like in the first few chapters talking about her drinking thought the night and her lunch plans and getting new acquaintances. It could have all been summed up very easily. But overall I probably would not read the book over, it was much too long. But I did enjoy how in the end she did get her giant panda with all of its glory, and found a new man along with the hunt.
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Posted October 23, 2008
The three top reasons I loved this book include: (1) it's based upon true history of a female pioneer, (2)the descriptions were so real I could imagine my foot stepping on the bamboo and then hearing it crack! (3) It is a soulful and uplifting read. In sum: Being a professor, I enjoy historical reads, especially ones that reveal so much about the women who came before us. This is an absolute fabulous read which stimulates the brain. Too, the pathos within the covers of this book reached my very soul. I laughed. I cried. And, I got so angry at the poachers, I could have thrown the book against the wall. Finally, I could never throw the book anywhere because I just could not put it down. No kidding. I read it from cover to cover without stopping. I felt unbelievably positive and hopeful when I finished reading. Purchase this for yourself or give this to anyone who loves life and adventure. Read this to boost your hope for the future!
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Posted January 30, 2010
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