Review: Change in Altitude


I must confess, I have read every novel Anita Shreve has written. I might be a bit biased. This book is not getting great reviews but if you enjoy reading about living in Africa, this is a must read. I have a minor in African studies and felt the details were spot on.

From author's website: For many readers, the appeal of Anita Shreve’s novels is their ability to combine all of the escapist elements of a good beach read with the kind of thoughtful complexity not generally associated with romantic fiction. Shreve’s books are loaded with enough adultery, eroticism, and passion to make anyone keep flipping the pages, but the writer whom People magazine once dubbed a “master storyteller” is also concerned with the complexities of her characters’ motivations, relationships, and lives.
Shreve’s novels draw on her diverse experiences as a teacher and journalist: she began writing fiction while teaching high school, and was awarded an O. Henry Prize in 1975 for her story, “Past the Island, Drifting.” She then spent several years working as a journalist in Africa, and later returned to the States to raise her children. In the 1980s, she wrote about women’s issues, which resulted in two nonfiction books -- Remaking Motherhood and Women Together, Women Alone -- before breaking into mainstream fiction with Eden Close in 1989.

The story behind A Change In Altitude: I lived in Kenya from 1975 to 1978 and worked as a deputy editor for an African magazine called Viva. I was often asked to write articles about various African people and had an opportunity to travel far and wide. I did actually climb Mt. Kenya and make it to the top, but as in all novels, the facts of my stay in Kenya formed only the barest skeleton on which to hang a story. I did have a lovely cottage in Karen, went to a Masai ceremony similar to the one described in the book, and often traveled to African family shambas for meals. I knew the expatriate community reasonably well. None of the characters in the book is based on anyone I ever knew -- particularly Margaret. I have not been back to Kenya since 1978. In the beginning, I had very young children and a trip was out of the question. Later, I began to discover that the country was seldom a very safe place to visit. I remember that several years ago, I got out a Fodor's to read about present-day Kenya: I believe the first sentence was: "Of all the countries we have ever reported on, Kenya is the most lawless." The situation is somewhat better today, but there is still a great deal of unrest. That said, I would love to return to the country of Luo and Kikuyu, of the tea plantations that shimmered in the distance, and of the island of Lamu, an exquisite, almost mystical, place of dreams. I still remember the colors vividly, and I have fond feelings for the wonderful people I met there. In 1978, I returned to this country just a couple of months before Jomo Kenyatta died -- thus ending the period of greatest stability in a country that was once thought to be the safest in Africa.

As for climbing Mt. Kenya, it was the most arduous physical endeavor of my entire life. Though the cast of characters was unlike those I have in the novel, the physical attributes of the mountain are described as I best remember them. The scree and the glacier were brutal, and I reached the top in a blizzard. I couldn't see a thing except tiny bits of white coming at me. I'm told that the glacier can no longer be safely crossed, and that in a very few years, there will be no ice at all on the mountain. Climate change.

A Change in Altitude is about Kenya, but it is also about a marriage and what can happen to that marriage as a result of a single catastrophic moment. It's a theme I often explore. I hope you enjoy the book. Anita

I don’t see a need to provide a summary of the novel with the information included above (and the synopsis below) so I will jump to my thoughts about this book. I will tell you that it’s nice to see Shreve back in top form! This novel is woven with so much detail about life in Africa. I felt like I was there, listening to a friends story. If you enjoyed the Poisonwood Bible, you will like this book. It moves at the same pace.

Type: Fiction, 320 pages, Hardcover

Synopsis
Margaret and Patrick have been married just a few months when they set off on what they hope will be a great adventure-a year living in Kenya. Margaret quickly realizes there is a great deal she doesn't know about the complex mores of her new home, and about her own husband.

A British couple invites the newlyweds to join on a climbing expedition to Mount Kenya, and they eagerly agree. But during their harrowing ascent, a horrific accident occurs. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Margaret struggles to understand what happened on the mountain and how these events have transformed her and her marriage, perhaps forever.

A Change in Altitude illuminates the inner landscape of a couple, the irrevocable impact of tragedy, and the elusive nature of forgiveness. With stunning language and striking emotional intensity, Anita Shreve transports us to the exotic panoramas of Africa and into the core of our most intimate relationships.

3 comments

  1. I believe part of the reason the book has less than stellar reviews is that the reviewers have not lived enough or traveled enough to have insight or understanding into what is happening. Had I read this book at 25, I would not have liked it. Now, at 55 it was a wonderful and insightful book full of understanding that few 25 year olds would have.

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  2. So happy that Shreve didn't disappoint you!

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  3. Believe it or not, but I haven't ready ANY of Anita Shreve's books. Which one(s)is your favorite?

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