Easter Island Paperback – 27 May 2004
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compelling reading (IRISH EXAMINER)
A stunning story, beautifully told (INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY)
Beautifully wrought ... streets ahead of BIRDSONG (TIME OUT)
Part travel adventure, part absorbing scientific discovery, part love story (GUARDIAN)
Full of suspense and revelation, EASTER ISLAND is an exceptional, supremely satisfying novel, marking the debut of a brilliant new writer and storyteller.See all Product description
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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)
All in all, a good page turner.
Enjoyable enough and fascinating insights in to one the world's most mysterious places.
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