MYSTERIUM by Susan Froderberg


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Froderberg (Old Border Road, 2010) lays on the spiritual symbolism in this novel set on a fictional mountain in India named for an actual Hindu goddess of knowledge, learning, art, and music.

Sarasvati Troy’s namesake mountain was first scaled the day of her birth in 1956. As Sara’s 25th birthday approaches in 1980, she and her father, a mountain-climbing philosophy professor, set out to scale Sarasvati with a hand-picked company of climbers: Professor Troy’s friend Dr. Arun Reddy and his son, Devin; Virgil Adams, who reached the summit during the 1956 expedition, and his wife, Hillary (a name with its own climbing associations); driven climber Wilder Carson and his wife, Vida, who teaches yoga. Also along, at least in spirit, is Sara’s mother, who died in a climbing accident when Sara was 7 but has remained a guiding presence in her daughter's life. Scaling Sarasvati demands grueling, sometimes literally impossible expenditures of spiritual and physical resources. Readers are drawn into the pain, danger, and mental exhaustion the characters face, but despite (or perhaps due to a surfeit of) lyrical prose, readers may also share the boredom—as similar scenarios are repeated, even the danger of avalanches becomes less compelling. So does Sara’s unearthly goodness despite her predictable romance with sensitive Devin. Fortunately, the other climbers are less perfect and therefore more interesting. When Hillary is injured and goes home before reaching base camp, Adams’ longing for her and their domestic comfort overwhelms his drive to climb. Long-time philanderer Reddy had a brief affair with Vida before his wife’s death, and sparks still fly between them despite Vida’s hope that Sarasvati will reignite her marriage with her seemingly oblivious husband. Coming across as a macho jerk, Wilder is secretly tortured by grief and guilt over the climbing accident that killed his twin brother.

“The poetry was in the climbing,” Froderberg writes, but the drama here is in the muddle humans make of their lives.

Pub Date: Aug. 14th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-374-21768-6
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2018


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