Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Nan A. Talese (May 24, 2016)
Reading Sara Rating: 6/10 (remember: this is a good rating!)
Reading Sara Review: First of all, isn’t the cover of this book enchanting in and of itself? I would have picked up this book just for the cover, without even knowing what it is about. Luckily, I liked the book too!
At the end of Enchanted Islands, I learned that Frances and Ainslie Conway were real people: a real couple who moved to the Galapagos Islands in the 1930s. I love when authors can take real people and utilize their imagination to weave a fascinating story from some basis of history. Amend describes herself as” a novelist first, and a mediocre historian” – which is what makes her novel enticing. She utilizes a piece of history and creates characters that are heartbreaking, selfish, frustrating, and wonderful. And by the way, this is not a spoiler – if I had paid any attention to the book description, I might have known that this was based on Frances Conway’s memoirs and journals. But, as I said, I was captivated by the cover and didn’t need more information!
Enchanted Islands tells the story of Frances Conway, who grew up a poor Jewish immigrant in the Midwest. She forms an unlikely friendship with Rosaline Fisher. Their friendship goes through trials, tribulations, and adventures. But I did not find the real story to be about friendship – I found it to be about Frances. Frances was an independent woman when that was not extremely common. She was trusting, hard-working, and loyal. But we find all of that out later: the book starts at the end – with Rosaline and Frances in a Jewish nursing home, visiting the graves of their loved ones. Frances looks back on her life and decides to tell her story – the real story, and it takes some seriously unexpected turns.
When Frances is given an opportunity to marry Ainslie, a spy, and move to the Galapagos Islands, she says yes. From there, her life becomes full of secrets, half-truths, wonder, and intrigue. Both Rosaline and Ainslie test her trust – and Frances remains stable (though some things take a little longer to forgive than others).
While the entire book is not back-dropped with the colorful scenes of the Galapagos, a lot of it is. And one cannot read this without imagining it there vividly. This feeling took me to a place far away, which is one reason that I love to read.
Could Frances and Ainslie have been spies that shaped our history? We can only hope.
This book was different than many of the books that I enjoy – but in some ways reminded me of others like State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett, Circling the Sun, by Paula McClain, or Euphoria, by Lily King. It was good historical fiction, which I adore. Add it to your reading list and be enchanted!