'Thanksgiving in Mongolia' is an essay by Ariel Levy, which was published in The New Yorker on 10 November 2013.
The story opens with Levy recalling a childhood game she played with her parents, one of the few occasions she felt neither ostracised nor ill at ease. Of course, as she writes, the other natural habitat for a child who loves words and adventures is the page. This young literary explorer grows up to become a writer. She also proceeded to spend the next 20 years putting herself in foreign surroundings as frequently found herself.
And so Levy finds her herself on assignment in Mongolia, when she is five months pregnant. Her doctor told her that since she was still in the second trimester, it would be fine to fly. It would be, she thought, her last big trip for at least a year, maybe two. Other people expressed concern, but she liked the idea of being the kind of girl who’d go to the Gobi Desert pregnant, just as she had, at the age of 22, liked the idea of being the kind of girl who’d go to India by herself.
On her first night in Ulaanbaatar, in outer Mongolia, she started feeling a little strange so she went home early then woke the following morning with an insistent pain in her abdomen. She emailed her local contact to get his doctor’s phone number, then went out to interview people.
At dinner on the second night, she writes, ‘something was happening inside me’. She ran back to her room. The pain was unbearable. She remembers thinking, This is going to be the craziest shift in history. Sometime later, there was another person on the floor in front of her. ‘My baby,’ she writes, ‘was pretty as a seashell.’
Of course, it would be impossible to tell you why I’m talking about this essay without revealing what is a major spoiler. The baby died before the ambulance arrived.
Levy had, in 10 minutes, become a mother. But there was no child. Yet it had flicked a switch in her head. She was a different woman now. She realised she, just like everyone else, could not outrun mother nature.
I recommend this essay to you because of Levy’s uncompromising honesty and the way she uses concrete language to bring alive what could otherwise be a very abstract retelling of this tragic event. In Levy’s capable voice, she brings the reader with her on her journey of adventure and heartbreak at the edge of the earth.
The essay later grew into her 2017 memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply. And Ariel Levy is now in a relationship with Doctor John Gasson, who she introduces in the essay as 'confusingly, the handsomest man in the world [who] came through the door and said he was my doctor'.