First, a confession: I'm not interested in history. I know that makes me a Really Bad Person in lots of people's eyes, but I can't help it; I'm only interested in now and the future. Yet I found this book utterly compelling. The quality of the writing drew me in straight away, and I enjoyed the choreography of the dance between past and present. I enjoy travel writing, and the different locations were beautifully drawn. And I loved the characters. There seems such a vogue for unsympathetic characters in literary books at present, which may be great art but I simply don't want to spend time with them. But Adam and Birdie, Nev and Welland, even the more minor characters like Helge, were all such interesting people that I read more and more slowly as I got closer to the end of the book, because I didn't want it to end.
I could perhaps have deducted one point of a star here or there for a sentence that had room for improvement, or for a momentary lack of clarity - for example, I still don't understand what happened to Adam near the end of the book (I won't say more; no spoilers in this review). But I enjoyed the book so much that I can't summon the will to be picky.
Birdie says, at one point, 'If you visualise something - doesn't matter if you're writing or painting - you're much more likely to be able to take your audience with you. If you just make something up that you don't really believe in, then it doesn't mean a thing.' This book is fully and beautifully visualised, and what's more, it has a heart suffused with compassion. Highly recommended.