Froderberg’s novel Mysterium takes place in 'the wilds of altitude'; it imagines a 1981 expedition to a fictional peak in the India Himalayas. At nearly 26,000 feet, Mount Sarasvati—'a giantess, splendid, luminescent'—has long transfixed alpine explorers, and none as much as Sara Troy, who was named after the mountain. With her father and a team of other expert climbers, Sara hopes to be part of only the second group to reach its summit ... Mysterium conveys the foolhardiness and sublimity of extreme climbing, which renders human life so breathtakingly small and fragile. In the end, it’s not the summit that Sara and her cohort seek, but some undiscoverable place of transcendence.
The Himalayas, the world’s tallest mountain range, are intimidating enough, but Sarasvati is the most daunting of them all. Surrounded by sheer icy vertical drops and nearly insurmountable passes, the peak has shaken even the most persistent climbers. But the mountaineers in this brisk story are more persistent ... Froderberg peppers the novel with vibrant descriptions of the Indian subcontinent and weaves them in with contemplative takeaways about the sport of climbing ... After a while, the language becomes as esoteric and almost as difficult to process as the thin mountain air. Nevertheless, the harrowing adventure is ultimately suspenseful and nerve-racking, and the shifting emotional dynamics between the various members of the group efficiently spin a compelling story.
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; 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 ... 'The poetry was in the climbing,' Froderberg writes, but the drama here is in the muddle humans make of their lives.