Synopses & Reviews
It is 1913. Elsa Pendleton travels from England to Easter Island with her husband, an anthropologist sent by the Royal Geographical Society to study the colossal moai statues, and her younger sister. What begins as familial duty for Elsa becomes a grand adventure; on Easter Island she discovers her true calling. But out of contact with the outside world, she is unaware that World War I has been declared and that a German naval squadron, fleeing the British across the South Pacific, is heading toward the island she now considers home. Sixty years later, Dr. Greer Farraday, an American botanist, travels to Easter Island to research the island's ancient pollen, but more importantly, to put back the pieces of her life after the death of her husband. A series of brilliant revelations brings to life the parallel quests of these two intrepid young women as they delve into the centuries-old mysteries of Easter Island. Slowly unearthing the island's haunting past, they are forced to confront turbulent discoveries about themselves and the people they love, changing their lives forever. Easter Island is a tour de force of storytelling that will establish Jennifer Vanderbes as one of the most gifted writers of her generation. Foreign rights to Easter Island have been sold in 14 countries, including England, Spain, and France.
"The tight weaving of the two stories can feel a bit suffocating. But it is to Vanderbes's credit that it never seems formulaic....This is a readable, entertaining work." Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
"Recalling A. S. Byatt's Possession... weaves together history, science and romance,
while maintaining and undercurrent of suspense." Time Out (New York)
"One of the best novels of the year... fully imagined and wonderfully written." Robert Stone
"Splendid... captures in the intertwined stores of two women a passion for life and
for science that transcends time." Andrea Barrett, author of Servants of the Map
"Intelligently conceived and elegantly written... gripping storytelling." Newsday
"A beautiful story... a journey of mystery and surprise that readers will want to
take again and again." Fort Worth Star-Telegram
"Vanderbes knows how to craft suspense, and the narratives-while packed with vivid historical and scientific detail-move forward on the strength of her fully realized characters. When the connection between Elsa and Greer is revealed, it illuminates the novel." Publishers Weekly
In this extraordinary fiction debut--rich with love and betrayal, history and intellectual passion--two remarkable narratives converge on Easter Island, one of the most remote places in the world.
About the Author
Jennifer Vanderbes is a graduate of Yale University and the Iowa Writers Workshop. She was a McCreight Fellow in Fiction at the University of Wisconsin, and most recently was the Fellow in Creative Writing at Colgate University.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
1. Would you characterize Elsa and Greer as reflections of one another, or do you consider them to have significantly distinct attitudes and personalities? How might each womans storyline have played out in the others time period?
2. Elsas devotion to Alice is clear from the novels first page. Do you feel that Elsa has a realistic or naive perception of Alices disabilities? What does Alice represent to Elsa, besides being a devoted sister? Why do you suppose it's important for Elsa to maintain an image of Alice as pure and blameless?
3. Elsas tale ends with a spectacular “what if.” Describe your imagined outcome; were her final years tragic ones, or do you think she found peace at last?
4. Greer possessed keen deductive abilities as a scientist. Why do you suppose it was so difficult for her to realize her husbands deception?
5. Discuss the parallel aspects of the novel's two storylines. In what ways are both women on a similar quest? In what ways do they both find themselves strengthened and defeated by Easter Island?
6. How did your interpretation of EASTER ISLANDs epigraph, “The Legend of Hotu Matua,” shift after you had finished reading the novel?
7. Mahina is deeply religious, nurturing, and holding out impossible hope for a reunion with her husband. In what ways do her traits enrich the novel? Are her religion and Greers logic mutually exclusive?
8. Both Greer and Elsa find themselves immersed in mostly male worlds. How are these gender distinctions portrayed in EASTER ISLAND?
9. For Elsa, the arrival of Max brings both emotional and concrete consequences. How does your perception of him change throughout the novel, particularly in light of the letter that comprises one of the books opening scenes?
10. Both Elsa and Greer faced oppression by social convention. For Elsa, British laws might have required her to institutionalize Alice. For Greer, the role of wife versus lab assistant was difficult to navigate. Does Easter Island provide the liberation both women are seeking?
11. Why is Easter Island such an appropriate setting for these dual narratives? In what way do its remote, rugged characteristics reflect that of the novels main characters? In addition to being a work of fiction that blends historical and contemporary issues, EASTER ISLAND is also part travelogue. What did you discover during your armchair journey to this unique environment?
12. What are the similarities between Greers father and Elsas? What did each of these men teach their daughters about the world and its inhabitants?
13. What is your opinion of Professor Beazley? What do you believe his motivation in marrying Elsa was?
14. Consider the theme of survival in EASTER ISLAND. What is the significance of Greers poisonous spider bite? How might Elsa have “survived” living in England after her life-changing experiences on the island?
15. Greers paper, appearing in chapter twenty-nine, proposes that the construction of the moai led to the decline of the island's indigenous population. In what way does this irony reflect the life experiences of Elsa and Greer? What were their self-destructive “monuments?”
Weaving together a pair of remarkable stories, debut novelist Jennifer Vanderbes explores the realms of love and anger, trust and betrayal, through the eyes of two exceptional young women living nearly a century apart who journey to the most remote island in the world—Easter Island. Though separated by time and circumstance, these women experience parallel turns of fate as their passions for knowledge draw them into all-consuming investigations of the islands mysterious past. But what begins as scientific inquiries soon unearth frightening, personal revelations for both women, and as they
unravel the secrets of this exotic locale, they must face their own haunting secrets. A story about two journeys of transformation, forgiveness, and, ultimately, redemption, EASTER ISLAND is a powerful debut and a wonderfully intriguing book to discuss.
The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Jennifer Vanderbes EASTER ISLAND. We hope they will enrich your experience of this captivating novel.