Picks and Pans Review: Easter Island

updated 06/30/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/30/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Jennifer Vanderbes

Critic's Choice

In 1912, 22-year-old Elsa boards a ship to Easter Island as part of her husband's anthropological expedition. For two years they will live on the remote, unsettled island, cut off from the world. In 1973 a botanist named Greer Farraday flies to the same island to study pollen.

The chapters alternate among the tales of Elsa, Greer and Graf von Spee, a German vice admiral whose WWI fleet briefly anchored at, you guessed it, Easter Island. Botany, anthropology, history? Add in a few lengthy talks on Darwinism and magnolia pollen, and you've got a book full of the kinds of passages most readers are tempted to skip. Don't. Vanderbes has a sure eye for detail and a sophisticated plan. Like not-quite-parallel lines, Elsa and Greer and von Spee's stories move closer together until the end, when they artfully meet. As that moment comes, you'll be glad you savored every word in this rich and worldly first novel.
BOTTOM LINE: Glorious Easter

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