Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend
Nan A. Talse, 2016. Hardcover, 306 pages.
Spanning nearly a century, Enchanted Islands tells the story of Frances Frankowski Conway. Frances grew up in Minnesota before moving with her best friend, Rosalie, to Chicago in order for both to escape troubled situations at home. This novel opens by setting up for this move before showing the life the two young women had in the Windy City. However, soon after Frances and Rosalie part ways on not the best terms.
The novel skips ahead nearly three decades, providing just the basics of Frances’ life. The late 1930s finds Frances in San Francisco where she has spent the last two decades teaching English. Wanting a change of pace, she takes a secretarial job with Naval Intelligence. Soon after, she and Rosalie reconnect and resume their friendship. Concurrently, Frances is asked to marry a naval office, Lt. Commander Ainslie Conway as part of his undercover mission to the island of Floreana in the Galapagos. That small island had been noted for having a high German population as war loomed over the world and it only made sense to send a couple, not an individual.
While on Floreana, readers will gather a sense of what it was like on the island. There are the daily struggles for survival, including carving new trails, fending off animals, and growing one’s own food. There is also the language barrier as the residents speak a mix of Spanish, German, and English. All the while, Frances and Ainslie learn about each other as they initially only married for the mission, not love. Throughout their time on the island, Frances and Ainslie must also try to determine, who, if anyone, is working for the German government and make regular reports about the island’s German residents to Naval Intelligence.
Overall, this read like a fictional autobiography. The novel was written in the first person using Frances perspective. This meant that readers can often feel her feelings as they read, thought one does wonder how some obvious clues about Ainslie were missed by Frances. There were also parts of the novel that moved either to slowly, such as the trip to the islands, or passed much to quickly, like Frances’ time in Nebraska. In the latter case, I would have liked to have read more about that point in her life as Frances was working with feminist causes. And I did like how life on the island was depicted as it was not glossed over or glamorized.
For those wanting to learn more, Frances did pen a biography about life on the island called The Enchanted Islands and a novel about the island entitled Return to the Island. However, as I could not locate copies, they may be out of print and only found in academic libraries. I will also note that I tried to do some cursory research on Frances Conway and learned little as there are not biographies online about her; all I found was a transcription of an old newspaper article about their life on the island. Therefore, it is hard to know how much of this novel is fact versus fiction.
I won a copy of this novel in a Read It Forward scavenger hunt.
Do you think you will read this novel? Do you have any other novels to recommend about living on remote islands besides this one and Under a Wide and Starry Sky I reviewed back in 2014?