Roper, Robert 1946-

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ROPER, Robert 1946-

PERSONAL: Born June 10, 1946, in New York; son of Burt W. (a lawyer) and Miriam (a teacher; maiden name, Wickner) Roper; married Summer Brenner (a writer); children: Michael, Doise, Caitlin. Education: Swarthmore College, B.A., 1968; University of California—Berkeley, M.A., 1969.

ADDRESSES: Home—1321 Milvia St., Berkeley, CA 94709. Agent—Robbins Office, 866 Second Ave., 5th Fl., New York, NY 10019.

CAREER: Merchant seaman, 1970-71; guitarist and singer. Writer, 1972—.

MEMBER: Sailors' International Union, Writers Guild of America, Phi Beta Kappa.

AWARDS, HONORS: National Endowment for the Arts grant; Ingram Merrill Award; Stegner Fellowship.


Royo County (novelized stories), Morrow (New York, NY), 1973.

On Spider Creek (novel), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1978.

Mexico Days (novel), Weidenfeld & Nicolson (New York, NY), 1989.

In Caverns of Blue Ice (for young adults), Sierra Club Books (San Francisco, CA), 1991.

The Trespassers, Ticknor & Fields (New York, NY), 1992.

Cuervo Tales, Ticknor & Fields (New York, NY), 1993.

Fatal Mountaineer: The High-Altitude Life and Death of Willi Unsoeld, American Himalayan Legend, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2002.

Victory to the Moth, Context Books (Berkeley, CA), 2003.

Contributor of stories to magazines.

WORK IN PROGRESS: The Abode of Snows, a sequel to In Caverns of Blue Ice.

SIDELIGHTS: As a novelist, Robert Roper has received much attention for Cuervo Tales and The Trespassers. Also a specialist on mountaineering, Roper has used this sport as the basis for two books—one a fictionalized biography for children, the other an account of a climber's fateful assault on one of the world's highest peaks.

In Caverns of Blue Ice, a young-adult volume, covers the life of Louise DeMaistre, the first woman certified as an Alpine mountain guide. This was "a story I wanted kids to read," Roper once explained. "It originated in little bits of stories I would fold up and drop in my daughter's lunch bag each day. Finally, she demanded that I tell her the whole story of Louise DeMaistre . . . and so I began my book." A Publishers Weekly reviewer remarked favorably on the "detailed, breathtaking descriptions of various ascents" in the novel.

As SF Gate reviewer Floyd Skloot pointed out, "most mountaineering books are written by people who are mountaineers first and writers second." So it was with praise that Skloot welcomed Fatal Mountaineer: The High-Altitude Life and Death of Willi Unsoeld, American Himalayan Legend. What distinguishes this book, he noted, "is that Roper is a seasoned, talented novelist as well as an experienced climber. His book combines vivid characterization, gripping accounts of extreme mountaineering, as well as pertinent cultural, historical and philosophical reflection." The subject of this work, Willi Unsoeld, was considered one of the greatest climbers of the twentieth century.

Roper's book opens with Unsoeld's 1979 death in an avalanche on Washington's Mount Rainier, then goes on to chronicle the man's life and achievements, including his historic scaling of Mount Everest's West Ridge in 1963, "the hardest new route on the highest mountain in the world." Unsoeld dedicated his life to mountaineering, even naming his daughter Devi, after India's Nanda Devi mountain. In a tragic twist of fate, Unsoeld would be witness to his daughter's death on that very peak in 1976. The twenty-two-year-old Devi had fallen ill to altitude sickness, but no one in the expedition—not even her father—could convince her to curtail her climb. When Devi died, the other climbers could not carry her body down the mountain. So they wrapped her body in a sleeping bag, hurled it down a 10,000-foot cliff, and resumed the climb.

Beyond the story of one man's dedication to his goals, Fatal Mountaineer covers what Roper calls the "sea change" in mountaineering in the late twentieth century. The "ethos of camaraderie" that Roper says characterized Unsoeld's Everest quest had given way to a view of mountaineering as a more slick, commercial enterprise in the 1970s. Though "not the smoothest of narratives," said Booklist's Gilbert Taylor, "Roper's story of the conflict will nevertheless gain purchase with fans of adventure books." Taking a more enthusiastic viewpoint, Skloot found the work "out-door literature at its best," a "rich tapestry, a book for both the general reader and the climbing fanatic."



Booklist, February 15, 2002, Gilbert Taylor, review of Fatal Mountaineer: The High-Altitude Life and Death of Willi Unsoeld, American Himalayan Legend, p. 984.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April, 1991, p. 203.

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1993, p. 555.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 30, 1991, review of In Caverns of Blue Ice, p. 13.

New York Times Book Review, September 16, 1973, p. 4; November 8, 1992, p. 67.

Publishers Weekly, January 9, 1978, p. 72; June 16, 1989, p. 57; May 3, 1991, review of In Caverns of Blue Ice, p. 73; July 27, 1992, review of The Trespassers, p. 47; May 31, 1993, review of Cuervo Tales, p. 42; January 21, 2002, review of Fatal Mountaineer, p. 74.

School Library Journal, June, 1991, Joel Shoemaker, review of In Caverns of Blue Ice, p. 112.

Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 1991, Jane Van Wiemokly, review of In Caverns of Blue Ice, p. 101.


SF Gate, (April 2, 2002), Floyd Skloot, "Exhilarating Peaks and Devastating Slips."*