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download (10)Reviewed by Katie L.

A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve is the story of everything that could go wrong when you decide to pick up and move to a completely foreign country with your brand new husband. Margaret and Patrick move to Africa so that Patrick can conduct medical research there. Having only been married for a few months, Margaret feels out of place, with no job, no purpose, and no friends. Meanwhile, Patrick seems to have found a niche in his career and is getting along very well with their new friends and landlords, Arthur and Diana, a wealthy English couple.

On a climbing expedition up Mount Kenya with Arthur, Diana, and another couple, Margaret’s suspicions of being an outcast are proven. Margaret is the least athletic and is therefore left alone for most of the three day climb. One night Arthur, being the only person to wake up to the sound of Margaret crying out in fright, attempts to comfort her. Craving security, Margaret greedily accepts Arthur’s kindness. Through a series of events and a tragedy on Mount Kenya, Margaret and Patrick go home isolated from their friends and from each other. Patrick blames Margaret for the events on Mount Kenya and deep down, Margaret blames herself, too.

The marriage begins its long climb down just as Margaret begins her personal climb upwards. She finds friends in the most impossible places and finds purpose in one of the most dangerous livelihoods. A once intimidating country is now full of promise and beauty. Even the disasters and extreme difficulties that Margaret encounters serve to make her stronger and have a better outlook on her situation. Margaret feels like she is now a part of Africa, a belonging member of a country which once shunned her and that stole her sense of security.

I am usually very happy to read a book about Americans in a foreign country and I enjoy living vicariously through the characters. However, A Change in Altitude took me out of my element. This was not a fluffy I-took-a-vacation-and-found-my-true-love-in-Italy kind of book (although I do enjoy those). Margaret has to get used to African life, a life where one can be imprisoned and tortured for simply questioning the government. People with physical ailments can be put into a mental hospital just because no one knows what else to do with them. Being raped is very shameful and maybe even punishable by African standards. The other expatriates she befriends seem ignorant to the everyday realities of African life.

The first half of the book sees Margaret with no true friends or alliances at all, the second half is the beginning of a turnaround which made me laugh at her wit and enjoy her personal progress. Margaret climbs a mountain both emotionally and physically in order to find out who she really is and what she is capable of. Whether or not Margaret goes back to the United States, she is changed and a better person for all that she has waded through. I would highly recommend this book to any reader. This book is the story of everything that could go wrong with a new marriage, but it’s also about the wonderful things you would have never experienced had you stayed in your warm comfort zone, completely engrossed in your own life.

Katie is a community college drop out who recently decided to go back now that she has finally found her calling: to be a social event planner. Katie and her fiance, Bart will be getting married next summer so her days and nights are filled with budget talk, cake pictures, and cardstock. Katie blogs on and off at Frilly Thinking.