I just saw the news about David Oliver Relin’s suicide, and it causes me intense pain, because I feel like I viscerally understand how this tragedy happened.
For those of you who might not know Relin’s name, he’s the co-author of Three Cups of Tea, the story about Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute (CAI).
I was outrageously angry and frustrated with myself when Three Cups of Tea was topping every best-seller list on earth — I’d known about CAI and Mortenson for years and never had the idea to write a book about it.
And after Jon Krakauer’s Byliner expose brought to light the dark side of Mortenson’s feel-good story, I was awash with relief that it hadn’t occurred to me.
Relin got that inspiration, and it seems to have cost him his life.
As a writer on the lookout for a “high-concept” story, I could easily have fallen under Mortenson’s spell, and if in our interviews I was having my head filled with mis-remembrances, not-quite-the-truths, distortions, disinformations, evasions, inaccuracies, inventions, misrepresentations, prevarications, misstatements, and other whoppers, big and small, I might not have had the brains — or the courage — to smoke them out, either.
That thought fills me with terror, because there but for the grace of God goes me.
David Oliver Relin’s blood is on someone’s hands, I think I know whose, and it fills me with bitterness.
So many people have been hurt by this, and such an incredible opportunity has been squandered.
And to be 100% clear, I don’t think that person is Jon Krakauer.
*In a related note, many of my CNAC veterans can remember in minute-by-minute detail significant events that happened to them in the 1930s and ’40s. Here are two that describe what it was like to interview Moon Chin, one of China’s Wings main supporting characters (and an incredibly reliable witness): Ceiling 500 feet, Intermittent Drizzle; and Why interviewing Moon Chin is like interviewing a jazz riff.
*Here’s a link to The New York Times story about Relin’s suicide.