'After Kilimanjaro' is a novel that I wouldn't have imagined I would review, but I am. In fact it is a book I wouldn't have imagined I would have read, but I did.
I have never read a Harlequin romance, but I have taken a course on how to write one and this novel, with some unusual variants, seems like it could be one.
Maybe surprisingly in retrospect, I was at no point tempted to stop reading it. So obviously the author, a semi retired surgeon, Gayle Woodson, succeeded at the most important level...keeping the reader, at least this one, involved in the fate of her characters.
I can't recall where I heard about this book, but I am sure it is a source I have relied on as trustworthy, such as Fareed Zakaria. I went to the library with a list of half a dozen books, mostly intellectually weighty non-fictions, and this lightweight novel was the only one my library had.
With experience in East Africa and also Mt.Kilimanjaro, the title was a major attraction.
What really motivated me to review it is not what was good about it, but the surprise over how negligently it was copy edited. I regularly encountered major missteps in sentences. Whole phrases were repeated in succession. I usually expect to find a minor typo of two in a published book, but not several instances of whole sentences being botched and confusing.
And maybe a more experienced reader of such books would not get confused by large passages of conversation between two people. Maybe those readers would breeze through these exchanges knowing what to expect from each speaker. I didn't. I frequently went back to re-read and try to decipher who said what. Maybe the odd “he said” “she said” would have straightened me out, but then maybe I don't have the right reading experience.
In any event, these two issues prompted me to do some research into the publisher, something I had never felt compelled to do before. The publisher is 'She Writes Press', a California based 'House', that caters exclusively to female writers.
And here is where Google really takes the effort out of finding out about things. I learned that it is an 'hybrid' version of self publishing. So I needed to find out what was 'hybrid' about it. The publishing house has a stable of female writers, the odd one that I might have heard of, but then maybe I just don't read in the genre.
It seems that it costs about $7,500 to get one's book published. The company offers, for additional fees, two or three different kinds of editing, cover design and a couple of other incidentals.
If Ms. Woodson paid for editing she was poorly served. The cover is decent, but it is just a romantic photo of a shrouded Kilimanjaro. However, the back cover has a brief summary and a few plaudits praising the book, which may be a publishing service.
Self publishing is becoming popular maybe because there is a growing number of aspiring writers and at the same time a shrinking population of readers. And some of these aspiring writers are putting out books worth reading.
Most traditional publishing houses get far more manuscripts than they can even go through so it is hard to get something considered unless it precisely targets the narrowing criteria of the surviving publishers. Having an author's “platform” is now important. That apparently is sufficient exposure on the internet through followers in social media, a podcast or a blog denoting some fame or name recognition.
You hear about bestsellers with the suggestion that 100s of thousands or even millions of volumes sold, when in reality a paltry few thousand is anointed a 'bestseller', depending on the market.
And this creates the niche for self publishing. They only have to convince a committed and enthusiastic writer to fork over a few thousand dollars rather than beat the bushes for the odd reader willing to pony up $40 to buy a copy.
As nearest I can tell, the main useful service that She Writes Press offers is contacts in the book selling field, allowing an author to get their foot in the door of a bookseller. Apparently the publisher has sufficient contacts to make this a worthwhile service.
And this service may continue to offer value as the publishing industry further 'evolves'. It, like print media and recorded music, are struggling with varying degrees of success to counter new technological avenues. The growth of online books is likely to provide a substantial challenge to the nascent self publishing industry trying to extract money from too enthusiastic aspiring writers.
On line publishing, with no print expenses, may prove an avenue for new writers.
Now back to Ms. Woodson's book. I would describe it as a romance with one small chapter devoted to a hike up Kilimanjaro. I found the described experience to be a fairly accurate rendering of the challenges I had. From an Africa point of view I was disappointed. Moshi, the most significant beside-Kilimanjaro community is not mentioned. She does, however, describe the two-peak element of the mountain, not visible in most of the pictographic renderings of the mountain.
But who am I to say the focus on the white missionary doctor romance isn't the better selling feature than the mountain or Tanzanian society.
The main character is a young American female, still-in-training, surgeon who has chosen to do a research project in Tanzania about childbirth and the level of care surrounding it. In so doing, she has left behind for a year her fiance, a white person of the same social class and comparable field of study, medicine.
And the threatening love interest she encounters is a citizen of the Netherlands, who spent many of his formative years in Africa, but checks similar boxes of race, class and profession. He is an anaesthesiologist.
As a semi-retired surgeon, you would expect the author to weave the medical in authoritatively and she does.
Predictably in such a story, the somewhat distant and stiff fiance, David loses or bails to the conveniently accessible and more passionate Pieter. And we only have compelling statistics suggesting they didn't live happily ever after.