Perpetua’s Kin takes readers on a journey from the western theater of the Civil War to 1940s San Francisco as it traces the fortunes—and misfortunes—of the Lorn family. When twenty-three-year-old Benjamin Lorn’s mother dies in the summer of 1886, she implores him to forgive his father, a resentful Civil War veteran. As Benjamin explores his family history, he discovers a secret that spurs him to flee his father’s home and head west to work on the telegraphs that have fascinated him since boyhood.
A classic multigenerational family saga, Perpetua’s Kin is lyrically written, a beautiful love letter to the written word. As such, however, the plot moves slowly. This is not a criticism, as this novel is a literary work that rightfully takes its time. It’s merely a caution to anyone who might be looking for a fast-paced thriller.
My only criticism is that I would have liked to know more about Benjamin’s father. It makes sense he would be embittered after the war, but Cunningham never explains why the father was such an angry, violent young man prior to “seeing the elephant.” This feels especially dissonant when we see what a kind man Benjamin’s grandfather is—surely Grandfather Lorn did not raise Benjamin’s father to be abusive.
Overall, this novel is a flowing tale that brings to light lesser-known aspects of generally well-known time periods. A treat for anyone who enjoys elegant writing.