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Book review: 'Path of 8' shares true story of death, widow's grief

"THE PATH OF 8," by Amber Christensen, Balboa Press, $23.99, 477 pages (nf)

Aconcagua looms 22,841 feet over western Argentina in the Andes Mountains, according to MountainMadness.com. Compared to its big sisters, such as Everest, it is a walk-up, but Aconcagua’s lure to extreme climbers comes from its placement on the list of Seven Summits — the highest peak on each of the seven continents.

It was on Aconcagua that author Amber Christensen of Salt Lake City met her husband, and it's also where her husband died under tragic circumstances. Christensen, who teaches English as a Second Language at the University of Utah, tells the story in a wrenching memoir titled "The Path of 8."

Christensen met Federico “Fede” Campanini when he guided her on a hike in the lower reaches of Aconcagua, and they married in 2005. He died on Aconcagua on Jan. 8, 2009, after becoming disoriented in a storm while leading hikers down from the summit. Christensen believes he might have lived had his rescuers done things differently.

This is not a book about the harrowing risks of extreme mountaineering, although the reader does get a few snippets of that life. It is a book from deep inside the grief of a widow. It is a story about bilingual and bicultural romance, and it serves as a sort of crash course in Spanish vocabulary as Christensen spreads Spanish terms heavily throughout. Musings about numerology, specifically the symbolism of the number eight, are rife, and the combination of these elements can be daunting and at times frustrating.

Reading the inner workings of Christensen’s mind requires patience, as if the reader were sitting for hours with a grieving friend, hoping a listening ear can help her heal. Her thoughts are heavy on poetic metaphor, searching for meaning in obscure facts and words. Her focus on the number eight will be appreciated most by those who are already interested in numerology.

Christensen’s story comes alive when she begins her investigation of the botched rescue attempt and works to set up the “El Fede” Campanini Foundation — a foundation she founded in hopes of making sure a tragedy like the one that took her husband's life doesn't happen again.

The book contains mild sexual references, minimal strong profanity and intense themes of depression and suicide.

Daryl Gibson is a freelance writer and book editor living in Cedar City, Utah.