Tomomi Hanamure, a Japanese citizen who loved exploring the rugged wilderness of the American West, was killed on her birthday May 8, 2006. She was stabbed 29 times as she hiked to Havasu Falls on the Havasupai Indian reservation at the bottom of Grand Canyon. Her killer was an 18-year old Havasupai youth named Randy Redtail Wescogame who had a history of robbing tourists and was addicted to meth. It was the most brutal murder ever recorded in Grand Canyon’s history. Annette McGivney covered the tragedy for Backpacker magazine where she is Southwest Editor and she wrote an award-winning article that received more reader mail than any story in the last decade.(See the story here.)
While the assignment ended in June 2007 when the article was published, McGivney could not let go of the story. As a woman who also enjoys wilderness hiking, McGivney felt a bond with Hanamure and embarked on a years-long pursuit to learn more about her. McGivney traveled to Japan and across the American West following the trail Hanamure left in her journals. Yet, McGivney also had a connection to Wescogame, Hanamure’s killer, and her reporting unexpectedly triggered long-buried memories about violent abuse McGivney experienced as a child.
Pure Land is a story of this inner and outer journey, how two women in search of their true nature found transcendence in the West’s most spectacular landscapes. It is also a tale of how child abuse leads to violence and destroys lives. And it is, ultimately, a story of healing. While chronicling Hanamure’s life landed McGivney in the crime scene of her own childhood, it was her connection to Hanamure— a woman she did not know until after Hanamure died — that helped McGivney find a way out of her own horror.
There is such tragic irony here. The very things that Japanese tourist Tomomi Hanamure is so deeply passionate about—the wild, stark, beautiful American West and Native American culture—are what leads her to her violent death. Around this single horrific event Annette McGivney has masterfully woven three separate, highly personal narratives.
—S. C. Gwynne, author of Empire of the Summer Moon, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize
McGivney intuitively grounds her narrative while exploring humanity’s roots of culture and origins of character, like the light of the sun awakening each intricate layer of earth in the deepest of canyons. She’s a storyteller of the highest caliber, with a style reminiscent of Jon Krakauer’s journalistic skill and unmistakable purpose. — Carine McCandless, author of The Wild Truth, the New York Times bestselling follow-up to Into the Wild
Perhaps the only thing capable of surpassing the sheer complexity, brutality, and sublime beauty of the Grand Canyon are the human stories that unfold upon the surface of this astonishing terrain. In Pure Land, Annette McGivney has gathered together three disparate narratives and braided them into a bewitching tapestry of darkness and light, pain and atonement, along with the unexpected gifts that can sometimes accompany profoundly devastating loss. A horrifying, uplifting, and deeply sympathetic exploration of the manner in which crimes can continue to haunt all who are touched by them, victims and perpetrators alike, trapping them within a web of grief and longing that is tethered between the redemptive pillars of truth and forgiveness. — Kevin Fedarko, author of The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon
I struggled each time I had to step away from Annette McGivney’s powerful blend of investigation and memoir in Pure Land because McGivney so expertly intertwines the lives of three people—all troubled, searching, and deeply connected to the stunningly gorgeous landscapes of the Grand Canyon. I fell harder for idealistic Tomimi Hanamure than I thought I would, felt more compassion for violent Randy Wescogame, and came away with a bottomless well of respect for McGivney. Pure Land reads like Into the Wild, but with a female protagonist, and by an author who is even more fearless than Krakauer in her quest to understand her past, her motivations, and her desire to make sense of a brutal, possibly unavoidable murder. —Tracy Ross, author of The Source of All Things, a Memoir
Take this tour into Pure Land’s treacherous canyons. With unflinching courage, Annette McGivney investigates the deep shadows of tragic, cyclical abuse, where old wounds caused by family disintegration, tribal erosion, and cultural genocide continue to fester. But this journey is a healing journey. McGivney’s open-hearted compassion imbues dignity on even the most troubled of our species. A compelling, illuminating and important book. — Ann Cummins, author of Red Ant House and Yellowcake
Pure Land is a powerful tale of three very different lives from three very different worlds—including writer Annette McGivney’s own—which become became inextricably linked by the Grand Canyon wilderness, family dysfunction, and brutal murder. It is an absorbing, and at times a heart-wrenching read, in which McGivney tells of Tomomi Hanamure, a spunky, independent Japanese woman who repeatedly travels to America looking for self and adventure, eventually finding it in the wilds of Southwest canyon country and in Native American culture. Hanmure’s ultimate, shockingly violent death at the hands of a young Havasupai man in the idyllic depths of Grand Canyon is both tragic and ironic. In researching and writing the book, McGivney is forced to open and deal with her own emotional wounds festering from an abusive upbringing. Collectively, she does a masterful job weaving these life stories together making Pure Land flow for the reader as a compelling saga that underscores the inestimable value of nurture and nature in shaping lives—for good and bad—and in the end, the incredible healing power of family love and wilderness. — Thomas Myers, author of Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon
In Pure Land, just as the Colorado formed the Grand Canyon, Annette McGivney shows how landscape and the circumstances of geography, politics and history formed the lives of Randy Wescogame and Tomomi Hanamure as well as her own. With such incredible compassion, deep insight, and crafted language, McGivney shapes her stories as richly as the landscape has shaped their lives.— Nicole Walker, author of Egg
McGivney weaves a raw, complex and riveting story, following the cliff edges of paradise and humanity. She brings closure to two families while stumbling upon her own painful liberation. — Tom Martin, author and council member, River Runners for Wilderness
Tomomi Hanamure and her dog Blues, January 2001