This is a tale of two women: Elsa Pendleton, an English woman who travels to Easter Island with her anthropologist husband and mentally disabled sister in 1913, and modern- day Greer Farraday, an American botanist, who travels to the island for research purposes after the death of her husband. As Elsa’s husband studies the island’s colossal moai statues, she becomes fascinated with the rongorongo, ancient tablets filled with hieroglyphics, and begins attempting to translate them in hopes of discovering more about the island’s history. Elsa’s efforts in this regard are more to fill an empty marriage, whereas Greer’s own research project is an attempt to get her life back on track after learning that her husband plagiarized her own research before his death and took credit for it without so much as a shred of remorse.
Add to the above mix Elsa’s former lover, whose identity is not divulged until much later in the book, and a German naval squadron fleeing the British across the South Pacific after World War I is declared. Why, considering the poverty of the island, would a German squadron anchor there for any period of time, as reported in at least one historical account? And, once there, why did they go to such great lengths to keep the news of the war a secret to the island’s inhabitants? The answers to these questions and numerous others remain unanswered at the close of this novel, although, as a result of excellent historical research and a very fertile imagination, Vanderbes gives a number of viable possibilities. Her skillful interweaving of the fictional with the factual is nothing short of impressive.