A NovelBook - 2016
Born in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1882 to immigrant parents, Frances Frankowski covets the life of her best friend, Rosalie Mendel, who has everything Fanny could wish for--money, parents who value education, and an effervescent and winning personality. When, at age fifteen, Rosalie decides they should run away to Chicago, Fanny jumps at the chance to escape her unexceptional life. But, within a year, Rosalie commits an unforgivable betrayal, inciting Frances to strike out on her own.
Decades later, the women reconnect in San Francisco and realize how widely their lives have diverged. While Rosalie is a housewife and mother, Frances works as a secretary for the Office of Naval Intelligence. There she is introduced to Ainslie Conway, an intelligence operator ten years her junior. When it's arranged for Frances and Ainslie to marry and carry out a mission on the Gal#65533;pagos Islands, the couple's identities--already hidden from each other--are further buried under their new cover stories. No longer a lonely spinster, Frances is about to begin the most fascinating and intrigue-filled years of her life.
Amid active volcanoes, forbidding wildlife and flora, and unfriendly neighbors, Ainslie and Frances carve out a life for themselves. But the secrets they harbor from their enemies and from each other may be their undoing.
Drawing on the rich history of the early twentieth century and set against a large, colorful canvas, Enchanted Islands boldly examines the complexity of female friendship, the universal pursuit of a place to call home, and the reverberations of secrets we keep from others and from ourselves.
From the critics
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Spoiler alert -- I wrote this so I'll be able to remember what the book is about months from now.
Frances and her one friend Rosalie are refugees, Frances poor and Rosalie seemingly well-off. It turns out that Rosalie "helps out" with the rent by sleeping with the landlord. The two women run away together. They love each other like sisters, but Rosalie sleeps with Frances's crush and so Frances runs away, again, to another city. Eventually, she meets Ainslie and falls sort of in love with him. He becomes a spy and he marries Frances as part of his cover. They set up housekeeping on a mostly-deserted island. A German couple are there as well, and they spy on each other. Meanwhile, Frances discovers Ainslie is gay, but they love each other anyway -- just not "that" way. Their post ends, they return to the US, and Frances serendipitously runs into Rosalie, whom she has missed terribly. They become friends again, but Rosalie is rich now and they do not have much in common and run in different circles. Ainslie's homosexuality gets found out by the Navy and they send him back to the island as a way of kindly getting rid of him, then discharge him. Eventually he dies and Rosalie's husband dies, then Rosalie and Frances move together into an old-folks home.
Supposedly, this story was based partly on a true story. I found the "marriage as cover" part a bit hard to buy, and it never was really explained or acknowledged as weird. The writing was an awkward mix of vintage (in keeping with the time period of the 1920's-40's) and modern. It was an easy read and I didn't have trouble finishing it, but I wouldn't recommend it.
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