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Easter Island    by Jennifer Vanderbes order for
Easter Island
by Jennifer Vanderbes
Order:  USA  Can
Dial, 2003 (2003)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

The stories of two young women - one living in the early 1900s during the time of the Great War, the other during the seventies - are bound by the enigma of the giant statues, or moai, of Easter Island.

Elsa accompanies her husband of convenience, Edward Beazley, in his anthropological mission to Easter Island, almost literally the middle of nowhere. (Easter Island lies approximately midway between Tahiti and Chile.) Elsa has married Beazley in order to provide for her younger sister Alice after the death of their father. There was little choice for a woman of that time period, and their father's economic losses are complicated by Alice's mental state. Elsa is terrified of losing her sister to the draconian policies of the time, when the mentally ill or handicapped were locked away. By marrying Beazley, Elsa sacrifices her own love.

The parallel story introduces us to Greer Sandor Farraday, a botanist whose specialty is palynology, or the study of pollens. Greer's stay on Easter Island is a long-awaited opportunity to study an island ecosystem.

Jennifer Vanderbes has a gift for description, and weaves historical and scientific information into the compelling tales of two women who are wrestling with personal issues. Elsa's situation unfolds against the backdrop of World War I, with the predicament of the German Admiral Graf Von Spee providing yet another fascinating thread. Greer's history unfolds with tantalizing glimpses into her life, even as the author details the ecological history of Easter Island, which provides her answer to the mysterious moai.

All the stories - Elsa's, Greer's, Von Spee's, Easter Island's - are told with a deft touch. The author adds a number of well-conceived secondary characters as well. The skill with which Vanderbes mixes myth and fact, history and fiction makes the Author's Note at the end most welcome, as she explains what is true and what is not. Easter Island is an intriguing read, with much to offer those interested in the world around them.

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