on 1 May 2006
This is a fascinating story, beautifully written. Both main characters are betrayed by people they love and trust, and both story lines - although set in different times - take place on Easter island and link together very cleverly. Also brilliantly mixed in are interesting historical facts, scientific research and ecology of the island. I never expected to learn so much from this book, especially in such an entertaininng style. An impressive read.
on 7 November 2015
Not really what I expected, but it is my fault. I haven't read description, thinking that's a book about Easter Island. In fact, it is second class love affair, that takes place in Easter Island. Fortunately, I bought it used at bargain price.
...is what Easter Island represents for many people, being one of the most remote locations on earth. I found myself immediately drawn into the story, since the island is both a backdrop and a principal "character" itself. There is that intrinsic fascination with the "moai," the enormous stone statues that have also made the island famous. And as a result of more recent research, Easter Island is a possible paradigm for ecological catastrophe.
Vanderbes alternates two (and a half) tales involving the island, with sixty years separating them. There is an Englishwomen, Elsa Beazley, who sacrificed her own life's ambitions to care for her apparently autistic sister, Alice, and who accepted the offer of marriage from a much older man since she lacked the financial resources to care for her sister on her own. As part of his own research efforts, her husband takes the two women to the island in 1913. And then there is the American researcher, Dr. Greer Farraday, who has far more reason to "get away from it all," arriving in 1973. The "half" are brief chapters on Admiral Graf von Spee, and the fate of the German East Asiatic Squadron as it attempted to return to Germany at the beginning of World War I.
The author's erudition is dazzling, and none of the reviewers have indicated a mistake in her research. There is the pollen analysis of Farraday, and the work Beazley did, both in keeping her sister safe from the "eugenic" theories of the time, as well as trying to decipher the "rongorongo" script. Easter Island is one of the five places in the world that apparently evolved a written alphabet independently.
She is strong on insights into the human condition. The tale of the collisions of egos in the scientific "community" is now a current stable of received wisdom, but it never hurts to be reminded of them again, whether in the fictional background of Farraday's husband, or the very real events concerning the theory of evolution, involving Darwin, and his less socially connected rival, Wallace. Sometimes Vanderbes "hits all cylinders" with remarks like: "And she couldn't help feeling that Christianity, which had spent centuries contesting the greatest developments of human thought had a lot of nerve using a microscope to prove an object sacred."
Some saw romance in the novel, I saw very little. Yes, the female characters are the stronger, and better drawn, but I'd hate to see this wonderful book relegated to the "mere" category of a "woman's book." There is too much erudition, too many insights into the human condition for all of us. And Vanderbes used just enough Spanish to nag me (again) as to why I don't know more. I even appreciated the "cameo" appearance of Gertrude Bell, speaking of strong female characters.
Did not see much valid criticism in the 1 and 2 star reviews. Some seemed to be particularly mean-spirited; one even seemed to criticize her for being young! Well, er..ah... I was young once myself... and I only wish I had her abilities or knowledge then. I could not give the book a full 5-star rating however, since I did concur with some of the criticism. Towards the end of the book I found some of the coincidences far too "forced," even unbelievable so. Reviewer rules, as well as common sense involving potential readers restrict further elaboration. Ironically, one of the most amazing, very real, true life coincidences did not make the book. The pocket battleship Admiral Graf von Spee was sunk in the very same area, the South Atlantic, 25 years later, after the death of its name-sake, the character in this book.
I certainly hope Vanderbes writes many more -- I'm pleased with the prose, the style, certainly with the knowledge imparted, and with better endings, the 5-stars should flow.
(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on January 25, 2009)
on 20 December 2006
Bought this book after visiting the Island, and I wasn't disappointed. From quite early on it becomes very hard to put down, making you want to learn more and more about the future and the past of the main characters. However I have to say, I was slightly disappointed with the ending. The final revelation, for me, just doesn't make sense. Maybe the author was planning a follow up book, I don't know. If she does though, I would certainly read it.
All in all, a good page turner.
on 12 September 2004
A pleasant read which follows two stories, one based in 1914 and the other in the 1970's. Both seem to focus largely on the characters' progress through parts of their lives involving issues of love, marriage and loss. Although both are told largely within the context of the setting 'Easter Island' I got the feeling that the characters could have been some place else together. Although very prominent in providing a factual description of Easter Island, the facts seem to bear less of an attachment to the central themes of the story.
Enjoyable enough and fascinating insights in to one the world's most mysterious places.
A pre First World War expedition to Easter Island by young sisters Elsa and Alice, and Elsa's much older husband Edward, find echoes over sixty years later, when the widowed Greer Farraday arrives on her own mission to analyse core samples. The location in both cases was chosen because Easter Island's remote location makes it the perfect place to subject Darwin's theory of evolution to close scrutiny. Don't let that put you off, because the scientific aspects are described in a way that makes them accessible. We learn much about the history of the island, the mysterious statues, and the impenetrable scripts, whilst remaining engrossed in the developing drama of the protagonists' lives. A fascinating story, beautifully told.
on 6 May 2005
This is hands down one of the most interesting books I've read in the past year. It's gorgeously written, and a breathtaking page-turner as well. As we follow the heart-breaking stories of Elsa and Greer, the two women who travel to Easter Island, it raises questions about the nature of love and sacrifice, as both women find themselves shocking betrayed by people close to them. This is a truly gripping noevl, set on a remote and fascinating island.
Also recommended: Case Histories by Kate Atkinson and Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks.