There are many reasons that I don’t understand arguments against diversity in media, but outside of the obvious ethical arguments, sometimes I just want to grab writers by the shoulders and scream “You have such an easy shortcut to originality! Just write a story about people that nobody else is writing about!” Because originality is often held up as the diamond standard of a storytelling, and yet we still keep seeing the same cookie cutter ingenues and heroes that we’ve always seen.
Ok. Rant over. But it does relate to this particular story, because this is a story that spans a woman’s lifetime, yet the meat of the story, the very heart of the adventure and intrigue happens when our protagonist is in her fifties and has written herself off as a spinster. Enchanted Islands is named for the Galapagos, and the portion of this story that takes place on the islands takes place during wartime. It’s a spy story and Franny’s not your average literary spy.
To see a single, childless, older woman cast as a hero and to watch the growth she experiences so deep into her life, felt jarringly real… and jarringly uncommon in literature. The complexity of her character flows fluidly throughout the novel: comfortably rugged, yet sensitive and earnest. But she is also a “secret” Jew living on an island of Germans during wartime and navigating a sham marriage with someone she cares deeply for. Amend delivers on every opportunity for storytelling that she has set up, but it’s the character of Franny that really pulls you in.
But the spy story isn’t the focus thematically. The complexities of friendship are what charges Franny’s actions the most. Her childhood friend helps shape her path to the island, and a longing for that type of bond alters her experience on the island as well.
But this was back when people disappeared, when America was a vast swath of uncharted territory, and people were like pebbles tossed into the ocean.
While the story can’t really be considered an adaptation of a life, Frances Conway was a real person and was on the island of Floreana. Amend takes this woman and realistically imagines her as someone and something that we can’t confirm she ever was. I highly recommend delving into the tiny history of this equally tiny island with an Internet search. What little you find will lure you rapidly into the arms of this fantastic book.
Original. Immersing. Highly recommend.
Quote p. 96