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". . . transports readers into evocative settings. . ."
"various subplots shine like half-uncovered jewels . . ."
"He succeeds in charting Pasadena?s rise and fall. . ."
Ebershoff returns to his Pasadena roots for the eagerly awaited follow-up to his outstanding first novel, The Danish Girl, which dealt with the personal transformation of an artist. His second time at bat focuses on the transformation of a place–Pasadena–and once again transports readers into evocative settings that showcase his gift for research.
He succeeds in charting Pasadena’s rise and fall but could have injected more passion into the tangled love story of Sieglinde Stumpf (a.k.a. Linda Stamp/Lindy Poore) a beautiful lobster girl and a taciturn, handsome WWI soldier, Bruder, that her German father, Dieter, brings back from the front, having promised him his seaside onion farm, Condor’s Nest, provided Bruder keep quiet regarding certain misadventures. Bruder has also made a similar deal with another man, a cowardly young soldier who just happens to be the orange grove heir of Rancho Pasadena, Captain Willis Poore. When Bruder comes to Condor’s Nest, he falls in love with Linda who seems inclined to return his affection but not surprisingly, obstacles immediately bloom in their path, which eventually leads both to Pasadena.
Unfortunately the unfolding of this doomed love affair does not carry the plot as it did in Wuthering Heights, though Bruder does evoke Heathcliff and Ebershoff repeatedly quotes from Bronte to enhance his moody narrative. The convoluted plot structure and distant viewpoint slow the pace while various subplots shine like half-uncovered jewels–the story of Sieglinde’s mother, Valencia’s escape from prostitution and Andrew Jackson Blackwood’s evolution from thief to financier, suggestive of a 1944 Gatsby who seeks to buy both Condor’s Nest and Rancho Pasadena.
FYI: Ebershoff, the publishing director of Modern Library for Random House has won the Rosental Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and his collection of stories, The Rose City, was named on the Best Books of 2001 by the Los Angeles Times. Currently he is a visiting lecturer in fiction writing at Princeton and lives in New York City.
Reviewer: Melissa Hall