Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Book Feature-A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve

From the Publisher:
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.

Reading Group Guide:
1. How would you interpret the novel’s title? Does the concept of altitude have significance in the story beyond its literal meaning?

2. During the drive to Mt. Kenya, Margaret and Patrick talk about whether photography detaches you from the present or helps you immerse yourself in it more fully (75). In your own life, do you find that taking photographs enriches experiences or prevents you from being fully in the moment?

3. When Diana brings Adhiambo to stay with Patrick and Margaret for the night, they disagree about how best to deal with the situation. Margaret seems more concerned about Adhiambo’s emotional well-being, while Patrick focuses on her physical state. In what way do their differing perspectives reflect other aspects of their characters? Do you think Adhiambo would have been better off if Margaret and Patrick had taken her to the hospital that night?

4. Throughout the novel, Margaret is struck by the way Kenyan characters use the phrase “Just all right” (67, 189, 246, 303). How would you interpret the meaning of this phrase? Why is it so surprising to Margaret?

5. How culpable is Margaret in what happens on the mountain? To what extent does the blame fall on others involved in the climb? Should a person be held responsible for the unintended consequences of her actions (124)?

6. Is Patrick right to confront Margaret about what happened on the mountain? Margaret argues that if he loves her and intends to stay with her, he should not have told her his opinion, while Patrick believes it is most important to be honest (125). What do you think is most important in a relationship, total honesty or sensitivity to the other’s feelings?

7. Why do you think Margaret feels so strongly about taking the photograph of the leopard? Are there parallels between this action and Diana’s behavior on the glacier? Have you ever put yourself in danger because of a momentary impulse? What do you think motivates actions of this kind?

8. What is your definition of infidelity? Does Margaret’s relationship with Rafiq constitute unfaithfulness to Patrick? Is there such a thing as emotional infidelity or is only physical cheating really cheating?

9. How much of a marriage’s success or failure do you think can be attributed to the love between husband and wife, and how much to external factors, such as jobs, finances, location, and other people? Patrick says, “I think couples need projects to keep them together” (271). Is he correct that a couple must put in effort to make their marriage work?

10. If the accident on the mountain had never occurred, do you think Margaret and Patrick’s relationship would have evolved differently? Would anything more have happened between Arthur and Margaret? Between Rafiq and Margaret?

11. Imagine Margaret and Patrick thirty years after the end of A Change in Altitude, looking back on their life in Africa. How do you think each of them would describe the trajectory of their relationship during this time?

12. Describe your response to the novel’s ending. Did you find it sad? Uplifting? Did you feel that things had worked out for the best?
For more information, please see www.anitashreve.com

About the Author:
ANITA SHREVE began writing fiction while working as a high school teacher. Although one of her first published stories, "Past the Island, Drifting," was awarded an O. Henry Prize in 1975, Shreve felt she couldn't make a living as a fiction writer so she became a journalist. She traveled to Africa, and spent three years in Kenya, writing articles that appeared in magazines such as Quest, US, and Newsweek. Back in the United States, she turned to raising her children and writing freelance articles for magazines. Shreve later expanded two of these articles — both published in the New York Times Magazine — into the nonfiction books Remaking Motherhood and Women Together, Women Alone. At the same time Shreve also began working on her first novel, Eden Close. With its publication in 1989, she gave up journalism for writing fiction full time, thrilled, as she says, with "the rush of freedom that I could make it up."

Since Eden Close Anita Shreve has written eleven other novels: Strange Fits of Passion, Where or When, Resistance, The Weight of Water, The Pilot's Wife, Fortune's Rocks, The Last Time They Met, Sea Glass, All He Ever Wanted, Light on Snow, A Wedding in December and, most recently, Body Surfing. In 1998 Shreve received the PEN/L. L. Winship Award and the New England Book Award for fiction.


  1. I have several Anita Shreve books on my TBR shelf, but I have yet to read any of them. I will get to them some day! LOL

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