In the Shadow of the Mountain Book Club Discussion Questions

Sarah Hinson

About the Book: In the Shadow of the Mountain

Silvia Vasquez-Lavado returns home to Peru deep in the throes of alcoholism, hiding her sexuality, and repressing the abuse she’d suffered as a child. While in Peru, Silvia and her mother embark on a powerful healing meditation with Ayahuasca, an Amazonian spiritual medicine that can help you heal emotional pain and unlock a higher state of consciousness. The resulting vision shows Silvia walking among mountains. She takes her pain to Chomolungma, the “Mother of the World,” also known as Mount Everest. This is where her transformation begins.

Silvia starts climbing, and something about the brute force required for the ascent—the restricted oxygen at altitude, the vast expanse of emptiness around her, the risk and spirit and sheer size of the mountains, the nearness of death—wakes her up.

In this powerful and intimate memoir, Silvia Vasquez-Lavado opens up about being a sexual abuse survivor, a recovering alcoholic, and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, while also taking readers on a journey of self-discovery and growth all the way to the top of the tallest point in the world.

On Belletrist + BookClub, Silvia talks with co-hosts Emma Roberts and Karah Preiss about In the Shadow of the Mountain, including what inspired her to write the book, how the book and mountaineering changed her, and why it’s so important to talk about trauma in order to heal. Their conversation shows the importance of telling your personal story—both for yourself and others.

Book Club Discussion Questions

Perfect for book club organizers—or anyone looking to enrich their reading experience—these questions are a great way to keep the conversation going. Curious what the author herself has to say? Check out our exclusive author Q&A on Belletrist + BookClub to watch her answers.

1. In chapter one, we learn that Everest is referred to as Chomoolungma, or "mother of the sky." What are other ways that a mother figure—both literally and figuratively—plays a significant role in this book? (You can see Emma and Karah discuss this question at the end of the "Background" video in our Belletrist interview.)

2. In chapter two, the author discusses the terror inflicted by Shining Path on the people of Peru alongside terror inflicted on the author by J. How did this impact how you experienced this chapter? Do you think the author did this purposefully?

3. The author hiked Everest with a group of women sherpas and members of Courageous Girls. How do you think this differed from hiking with a group of men? Why is it important to see diverse groups of hikers?

4. In chapter four, the author discusses the “age of reason,” an important time for those who are Catholic. Chapter four also grapples the most with the sexual abuse the author survived. How do you think those two topics connect? How does Catholicism or other religion play a role in this book?

5. In chapter five, the author references how trauma "lives in your body" and "scrambles your instincts." How does the author's mountain climbing change the trauma living in her body? Have you experienced trauma living in your body? If you're comfortable sharing, talk about what that was like for you. (See Emma + Karah discuss this question in the "Trauma & the Writing Process" video.)

6. During her tenure at SKYY, the author adopted a “play hard/work hard mentality." Is there a connection between trauma and work addiction? What about trauma and capitalism?

7. In chapter nine, the women Silvia is leading meet in Asha and Shailee's room to check in. They end up sharing traumatic life events with one another. How do you think this impacted them and their hike? Have you ever experienced something similar?

8. How do you think coming out to her mother impacted the author? How did that moment add to the trauma she was already dealing with?

9. During her Ayahuasca trip, the author finds her inner child and decides to take her to the mountain. How do you think this impacted her summit? Have you ever dealt with your inner child? What was that like?

10. The author writes, "Sometimes we have to return to the site to begin to heal." What does this statement mean to you, and how do you think it connects to the author's story?

11. The author’s inner monologue reminds her “one step at a time." How does this connect to both her trauma and her mountaineering?

12. During a terrible storm, the author recounts a quote from a legendary climber who told her, "Everything changes when you just keep going." How do you think that advice impacted the author's climb? How does that quote speak to you?

13. At the Everest summit, the author sees a specter of her mother and leaves her favorite photo of Lori. How does grief play a role in her reaching the summit? What kind of role has grief played in your life?

About the Author: Silvia Vasquez-Lavado

In 2016, Silvia Vasquez-Lavado became the first Peruvian woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest in Nepal. By 2018, she completed climbing the 7 Summits (otherwise known as the tallest mountain in each continent), becoming the first openly gay woman to do so.

Silvia is a role model for anyone who has been told that their identity comes with limitations. She is a fierce advocate for LGTBQ+ equality and women's rights and sexual abuse survivors. Silvia's achievements made her recognized as a leader on and off the mountain and a symbol of women's empowerment worldwide.

About the author

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