From Publishers Weekly
Restrained passion and conflicted loyalties drive this sweeping debut novel, in which two women of different eras experience the mysteries of Easter Island. In 1912, Elsa Pendleton's father dies and leaves her to care for her 19-year-old sister, Alice, who is beautiful but not quite right in the head. To secure their position, 22-year-old Elsa marries Edward Beazley, a contemporary of her father's who is an anthropologist with the Royal Geographical Society in England. They travel to Easter Island, where Edward plans to study the giant moai sculptures, and Elsa finds herself immersed in a new and harsh culture. As she contends with revelations concerning her husband and her sister, she befriends the native islanders and becomes engrossed in unlocking the meaning of the symbols she finds on wooden tablets. In a parallel narrative, Greer Farraday, a young American botanist recovering from a disastrous marriage to an older professor, arrives on the island in 1973 to uncover the mystery of the island's lack of native trees. One of Greer's fellow island researchers is Vicente Portales, a cryptographer attempting to interpret the rongorongo tablets and breech Greer's defenses. As Elsa and Greer's stories play out in alternating sections, a third element is intertwined: the tale of Graf Von Spee, the German admiral who led his ill-fated fleet across the South Pacific at the outbreak of World War I. Vanderbes knows how to craft suspense, and the narratives-while packed with vivid historical and scientific detail-move forward on the strength of her fully realized characters. When the connection between Elsa and Greer is revealed, it illuminates the novel. Like the overcast skies of Easter Island, this impressive debut is rich in shades of gray: meteorological, scientific, intellectual and emotional.
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Through the interwoven stories of two women 60 years apart, this novel comes close to finding answers to the following age-old mysteries: the World War I defeat of Admiral Von Spee, the existence of the giant statues on Easter Island, the origins of the first flower, and why smart women let men take advantage of them. In 1913, Elsa accompanies her husband and sister to Easter Island for an anthropological study. Once there, she becomes a linguist and discovers the reasons behind the destruction of the giant Moai statues. World War I intervenes before the origins can be revealed to the rest of the world. Sixty years later, botanist Greer Farraday, suffering from the knowledge that her husband plagiarized her work as well as from his death, picks up where Elsa left off. The two compelling characters' stories of betrayal are equally engrossing. The story of Admiral Von Spee is less engaging and rather unbelievably tied to Elsa. This historical novel deftly combines romance, warfare, and science for the rationalist and romantic alike. Marta SegalCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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