This book is going to be hard to forget. A publicist reached out over email asking if I would review a novel based on a doctor’s lived experiences on Kilimanjaro and having to make decisions about how far his character would go to save another life. I insightful books and thought this could take me some interesting places as a reader and a climber. It left me a little uncomfortable.
The book is Moonstone Hero, a novel written by David Sklar, and is being released on or around October 25, 2022. The back of the paperback, focuses on the first half of the book, where the lead character Andrew must choose between going with the rest of his party to the mountain’s summit or descending in the dark to save a stranger, when no one else will. However, this is only a snippet of what I read in the novel’s 243 pages. The climb (or descent, really,) is just the start of what turned into a romantic story; Andrew pursues Eve, the girlfriend of Barry, who Andrew attempts to rescue. The back of the book did not give this theme the proper weight.
The story starts in Tanzania in 1974 and follows Andrew’s life starting on the verge of summiting Kilimanjaro, when Barry comes down with a serious case of pulmonary edema. It is dark when Barry’s condition worsens; Barry needs to get down just when the group of climbers and their guide were leaving the camp to make the final push. (Apparently it was unsafe to descend in the dark by not to ascend to the summit.) Andrew, is a medical student, and puts Barry’s condition first. The lead guide, Salaam, insists Andrew and Barry wait until morning when its light and they return from the top, but finally relents to Andrew and his opinion, as a medical student, and allows Andrew to descend with Barry immediately. Andrew is joined by the leader’s younger cousin, Koba. The others press toward the top.
I enjoyed Sklar’s character Koba, but I worry that I may be appreciating some Western stereotypes of African males unnecessarily without knowing the perspectives. Sklar shared his fears, their origin from his mother and songs they sang in school, his work ethic and how that approach to his job was, in part, to keep him save from the white man. He had a back story that seemed, as a reader, to be authentically African. Koba pretended not to understand Andrew or Barry on the descent, because he knew that if he spoke it would encourage more questions, and he was being cautious with these white men, and didn’t want to be hypnotized by them. It’s likely that Andrew wouldn’t have completed this leg of the journey without him, and Koba learned to admire Andrew. Koba’s honorable character helped set Andrew as the stories honorable hero.
From this point, the climbing portion of the story is a descent, and the rest of the story all goes down hill. Andrew saves Barry’s life and while Barry recovers in the hospital, he takes Eve on an out of place beach vacation. I was sincerely curious about where Sklar would go once Barry reached the hospital, but by this conversation I lost interest, but I plodded on to the end to see what surprises the book had.
I think the story has greater potential with some rewriting. The third person omniscient perspective left too few, if any, conceal-and-reveal moments. It limited Andrew and Eve to being one-dimensional. In good stories, you feel like the character or understand their worries, fears, and what excites them, and these things you can see the mistakes they make and how they overcome their flaws to become heroes. For Andrew, he just seemed like a nice guy doing the right thing but not getting what he wanted out of life. There were mentions about how he was longing for or obsessed with Eve, but I never felt or understood why, only that the perspective indicated that it was destiny, without saying explicitly so.
I was also perplexed by various little things that could have been omitted and that didn’t move the story along. Why did I need to know Eve was wearing eyeliner on the day of the ascent to the summit? (For that matter, why was she wearing eyeliner on the day of the ascent to the summit?) There was a lot of detailed discussion about travel details that were too instructional, such as how one would visit someone by flying in and whether they took a bus or train. And when things did move the story along, details were too often revealed in long answers of dialogue, which is how we learned that Eve, even on the mountain, was ready for the beach, because she said, in thinking aloud about whether to go, that she did in fact pack a bathing suit in her bag.
Moonstone Hero is about Andrew finally getting together with Eve. It only marginally covers climbing Kilimanjaro. And the conflict, drama, and ethical issues that were promised about choosing to do the right thing over going to the summit and peer pressure, never gets much deeper than what was said on the back of the book.
The story needed some more challenges and the book description needs to be honest. I also think that the fate of Barry was an opportunity to inject more conflict that might have challenged Andrew more and maybe even the circumstances around he and Eve. Andrew could still be a hero, deal with some greater adversity, and he and Eve could still go off into the sunset.
(Don’t buy this one for the AAC Library, Ms. Sauter, it isn’t relevant.)