Enigmas in Stone ; Two Women, 60 Years Apart, on Easter Island

By Charles, Ron | The Christian Science Monitor, May 29, 2003 | Go to article overview

Enigmas in Stone ; Two Women, 60 Years Apart, on Easter Island


Charles, Ron, The Christian Science Monitor


It's comforting to imagine that aliens placed those inscrutable statues on Easter Island. Such a theory protects us from the more haunting implications about human nature. The tiny island, 2,300 miles west of Chile, was settled around 400 A.D. Its early inhabitants - with or without extraterrestrial assistance - carved more than 600 giant faces from volcanic rock and then dragged them to the shore. Some weigh almost 90 tons.

In her gorgeous debut novel, "Easter Island," Jennifer Vanderbes has attempted something equally ambitious, and her success is almost as baffling. How can an unknown writer tell three stories across 60 years, balancing romance, botany, feminism, archeology, military history, academic politics, and civil rights for the handicapped in just 300 pages? The press release refers to a degree from Yale and a stint at the Iowa Writer's Workshop, but I suspect alien intervention.

The novel shifts chapter by chapter between the stories of two women, while also tracing the doomed retreat of German Vice Adm. Graf von Spee at the opening of World War I. Any summary risks making this all look like a tangle of unrelated events, but Vanderbes displays Mother Nature's genius at spinning a web of life.

In 1913, Elsa Pendleton has lost both her parents and finds herself the guardian of her 19-year-old sister, Alice, who is mentally handicapped. Their father was an enlightened academic who spent his life (and his fortune) fighting to defend the freedom of "feeble-minded" people at a time when England was moving toward forced sterilization and institutionalization.

Without him or any money of her own, Elsa consents to a marriage of convenience with an archeologist, a much older colleague of her father. The arrangement is peculiar, but apparently agreeable to all involved. Elsa's husband treats her like a beloved niece, never presuming on her affection or expecting any marital intimacy.

Their honeymoon, with Alice in tow, is an expedition to Easter Island, under a commission from the Royal Geographical Society. Though it's a 12-month voyage to a speck in the Pacific Ocean without any modern conveniences, Elsa is thrilled with the prospect of adventure, which has the added benefit of removing her sister from their increasingly intolerant homeland.

Exploring this unusual sibling relationship takes Vanderbes into a region more foreign to most readers than anything they'd find on Easter Island. The intensely private, beautifully intimate moments captured here between these sisters are, in fact, like nothing I've read anywhere else. But Vanderbes perceives this unique relationship with the kind of insight that eventually sheds light on the evolution and design of all relationships.

Elsa has grown up in a state of "constant vigilance" to maintain her sister's safety. Alice is a funny, frustrating, unpredictable young woman, but Elsa's sense of duty "has produced in her a seriousness that makes others uneasy" and blinded her to the costs of trying to shield Alice from any unhappiness. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Enigmas in Stone ; Two Women, 60 Years Apart, on Easter Island
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.