I read about this mysterious island in a book titled ‘World Famous Unsolved Mysteries’ several years ago. Since then it has always arrested my interest even at the slightest mention of it. Therefore, when I stumbled upon this book titled “Easter Island: A Novel” at the old book store, I bought it instantly. The highlight on the back cover suggested a tale of mystery where two stories, belonging to two different eras begin to unfold in this mystical island and finds an interesting conclusion as the stories intersect each other.
There are two stories which we get to hear in this book. The first is the story of Elsa Beazely ,her troubled sister Alice, and her second husband Edward, whom she has recently married. This story is set in 1913, when they visit Easter Island for a scientific expedition. Elsa feels that such a trip would help her move on with her past despondencies and also make her sister feel good with a change of atmosphere. The second story, set in 1970s, is that of Greer Farraday, an American botanist who recently lost her husband (her husband was alleged to have stolen her research works to attain fame for himself.) She too has come to Easter island to get rid from her past and complete her research work on flowering plants, for which the secluded ecosystem of Easter Island provides a perfect research ground.
Both these stories progress at a slow pace. Nothing surprising happens. A reader only relishes the experience of staying in a remote, mystery laden Easter Island, with its sparse population, simple lifestyle and unexplained historical folklores. The claim made that the two stories intersect each other in interesting way is misleading. They don’t connect in any significant manner. Perhaps there is no thrill in both the stories; the only delight of the novel is the experience of living in the quiet and esoteric Easter Island.
Jennifer Vanderbes has been quite earnestly lauded for this debut novel of hers. It also won her Washington Post Book World and Christian Science Monitor Best Book of 2003. I gathered she has written quite a lot of non-fiction on the subject of botany. Undoubtedly it reflects in this novel too. The character Greer, the botanist, goes at length to explain about her research on angiosperms (seed-bearing vascular plants) The whole of the second last chapter in this novel is the research paper published by the character Greer at the end of her research. This chapter was quite obtrusive as it broke the flow of what I was reading.
Experiencing the Isolation
The only good thing about this book, as I have stated, was to get a feeling of life in Easter Island. The population is sparse and in the novel it is depicted that everyone knows each other. There are no big factories or industry. Every such good is transported from Chile, once in a month. People place their orders and after a month the supplies arrive on ships. People line up to collect their orders.
The island’s past is shrouded in mystery and people don’t seem to have a clear account of its history. The gigantic statues, called moai, have many versions of folklores as to why and how they were created, although the scientists are unable to agree on any of those theories. Explorers and Voyagers have been bumping upon this island and writing accounts, expressing perplexity over its variety of flora and fauna despite being cut-off from any landmass by thousands of miles. The author invokes commentary from such famous explorers like Captain James Cook, Charles Darwin etc. Additionally she introduces us to rongorongo, an unsolved mystery of Easter Island. Rongorongo is a system of glyphs which appears to be writing or proto-writing and it has not been deciphered yet.
With such a mystical backdrop, the endeavor of Greer, to try to move on with her past seems a fair plot. I liked few lines where the sense of isolation and peace is evoked.
“She became aware of the silence all around her, broken only by the slight slap of water against her boots. Here I am, she thought. In the middle of a crater on the most remote island in the world. Reeds rising all around me; all I can see is sky. Not a voice, not a rustle to be heard.”
“On the rocks, about twenty yards from her, she spotted a plate covered with a metal lid, a halo of steam curling from its edges. It was odd, this abandoned meal, but then again, the island seemed governed by its own rules and rituals”
“She takes a deep breath. There is a moment of silence between them as they watch the port chandlers pack up their goods for the evening, as these last signs of familiar civilization rumble their carts into the distance.”
This story is interesting only if you like Easter Island and a little bit of reading about plants(since we have a botanist character here). The story, in itself is not quite gripping. The pace of story is slow and it is only the mystical feeling of the islands that is appealing. It makes for a fine reading on a sluggish rainy day.
(I am glad to post my review for the Recycled Book Reading Challenge, an interesting initiative by a curios reader and explorer, Mliae! Do visit her blog and learn lots about her life experiemnts! PS- Its snowing on her blog these days! 😀 )