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A Change in Altitude    by Anita Shreve order for
Change in Altitude
by Anita Shreve
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

When A Change in Altitude starts, Margaret and Patrick have been in Kenya just three months. They are twenty-eight years old and had married shortly before leaving for Kenya, so not only are these young Americans adjusting to living in Africa, they are also learning how to be married. Margaret would never have thought of climbing a mountain, but Patrick doesn't ask her if she wants to, he just assumes that they will both go when they are invited to accompany the British couple who have befriended them on a climb of Mount Kenya. For Margaret it seems like just another adventure to add to all the new experiences that she and Patrick are having.

Margaret doesn't really like the British couple, Arthur and Diana, but they have both been very helpful and generous to Margaret and Patrick. Arthur rescued Margaret when she had car trouble. After she had met Diana, too, and they learned that she had been searching for a new place to live with her husband when her car gave out, they offered to rent them their guest house. Although Margaret distrusts Arthur's interest in her, the two couples have known each other such a short time when they begin their trek up Mount Kenya that she has no real proof that he's flirting with her.

The mountain climb is much harder than Margaret could have imagined. All of the others in the small group have climbed a mountain before, but Margaret is out of shape and woefully unprepared, and she finds herself always last and struggling as they make their slow way up. Just as it seems the top of the mountain is within reach, something horrifying happens, which has disastrous consequences for all the climbers. After this event, Margaret and Patrick struggle to repair their marriage.

The first part of this book and the last part, during which the climbs of Mount Kenya take place, were the most engrossing. I had a hard time putting the book down when I was reading these sections. The descriptions were beautiful and complex. I was right next to Margaret, whether she was in the city looking around with her photographer's eye, or out in the countryside. We aren't told exactly when the story takes place, but it seems to be some years ago when white people could live luxurious lives cared for by their African servants. Her interaction with and guilt about being waited on by these servants provide an insight into Margaret's character. Indeed, Margaret tells the story in a thoughtful way, always trying to figure out the motivations of the other people she encounters.

Even though the middle section is so important to the story of Margaret's marriage, somehow the plot became muddled for me, and I had some difficulty with Margaret and Patrick's actions toward each other and their interactions with other people. It was a relief to me, as it was to Margaret, when the second climb of Mount Kenya started. I did like this book, for the story, for the wonderful descriptions of Kenya and its people, and for its portraying what a real mountain climbing expedition can be like for ordinary people.

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