Saturday, March 28, 2020
‘Nardagani’ Probes the Disappearance of a Brother
Narda Pitkethly will discuss her new memoir “Nardagani—Finding Light in the Shadow of a Brother’s Disappearance” at 4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21, at Ketchum’s Community Library.
Wednesday, February 19, 2020


Narda Pitkethly’s new book grabs you with its first 11 words:

“I will always remember the day I almost lost my mind.”

“I’m walking through frigid, thigh-deep water, one hundred yards into a dark mineshaft, completely alone,” she continues. “I’m searching the stagnant water with a stick, probing for a dead body, moving my stick methodically back and forth, from one rocky edge to another. When I find him, do I have the courage to reach out my hand and pull him to me?”

Jay Pitkethly enjoyed teaching BMX to his son A.J. and nephew and niece Raleigh and Sadie.

“Nardagani--Finding Light in the Shadow of a Brother’s Disappearance” revisits a story that riveted the Wood River Valley community in 2001 when her older brother Jay Pitkethly seemingly disappeared into thin air.

She will hold a book reading and discussion of the just-finished memoir at 4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21, at Ketchum’s Community Library.

“My book is a mystery and a thriller that starts with Jay’s disappearance. I love to read a page turner so that’s what I wrote. And those who have read it tell me they can’t put the book down,” said Pitkethly.

Jay and Narda Pitkethly grew up in Seattle in a family that prized education, their father a neurosurgeon and their mother a chemistry major. Jay was a mischievous and happy little boy.

He had a penchant for wandering off. He did so one afternoon while his father was working at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C., only to turn up on the 6 o’clock news shaking the hand of the President of the United States.

But life for Jay took a sobering turn when he entered third grade. He had difficulty reading and he suddenly started hating going to school. Convinced he was stupid he began hating his life and began hanging out with the wrong crowd. His self-esteem plummeted, he became depressed and he struggled.

Narda moved to Sun Valley in 1988, lured by the world-class skiing at America’s first destination resort. And Jay followed in 1998.

By then, he had figured out ways to hide his reading challenges. And he had found things he could do well. His knack for math had led him to accounting, and his love of movies had led him to become the main accountant for the movie “Titanic,” which was filmed just over the border from his Southern California home.

Like Narda, Jay relished all the outdoors life in Sun Valley offered.

“We had such a wonderful three years together with our kids and enjoying the outdoors and everything this community offered,” Narda said.

But the nightmare began with a phone call on Sept. 16, 2001. “Jay’s gone,” a friend recounted, describing how Jay had borrowed a friend’s jeep and not returned. The Jeep was found; Jay was not.  Hundreds of people turned out the next morning to search the woods around Gimlet and elsewhere but to no avail.

“After Jay’s disappearance people kept asking me to write about what happened—it was such a crazy story and so unreal that something like this could happen,” said Pitkethly. “There was a lot of mystery and confusion around the events that took place.”

Finally, Kate Riley, who has written her own memoir concerning her mother’s death, told Pitkethly: “it’s time to write your story, and I’m going to help you.”

Pitkethly spent every Wednesday for the next nine months meeting with Riley and one other woman, who was also writing a book.

Every Wednesday she handed the other two copies of her latest chapter. She read the words out loud while they scribbled notes about how to make it better.

 “They’d say, ‘We need more depth here,’ or, ‘Describe what you were thinking there,’ ” Pitkethly recounted. “Once I make up my mind to do something, I like to finish it. it’s such a feeling of accomplishment.”

This wasn’t Pitkethly’s first writing venture. She and Riley had collaborated on a few short stories, such as “Fred is a Clever Worm,” for students learning to read through her Nardagani program.

Pitkethly had constructed the program for challenged readers and ESL students using sounds and symbols because of the difficulties her daughter and brother had experienced.

“I started the program, hoping it might lure him home after he disappeared. And with the literacy crisis in this country, I wanted to keep young people from getting frustrated like Jay,” said Pitkethly, whose TEDxSunValley Talk about Nardagani has gained 600,000 views.

Pitkethly ended up self-publishing her book through Amazon. She plans to publish additional copies through Ingram Sparks.

“I was ecstatic to be done with it and share it with people,” she said. ‘It was a cathartic therapeutic experience for me. Writing that book helped me process the feelings I had shoved away that I couldn’t deal with or couldn’t stop crying about.”

Pitkethly said she hopes the book will help readers understand depression and addiction better. In fact, she’s even added questions for consideration at the back of the book for those reading the book as part of a book club.

“There is a resolution,” she said. “But it’s a suspenseful story so I just ask that readers keep the conclusion to themselves until they talk with someone else who has also read the story!”

NARDAGANI: A MEMOIR is available at Chapter One Bookstore in Ketchum and will soon be available at iconoclast Books in Hailey.


Narda Pitkethly will discuss her new memoir “Nardagani—Finding Light in the Shadow of a Brother’s Disappearance” at 4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21, at Ketchum’s Community Library.

Jay Pitkethly enjoyed teaching BMX to his son A.J. and nephew and niece Raleigh and Sadie.




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