Sunday, August 14, 2016

A Desperate Fortune: Past and Past!

(Title links to synopsis.)
This book was a Borders Book Club read and 
will also count for the following challenges:
20 Books of Summer and Historical Fiction.
The only other book written by Kearsley that I have 
read is The Firebird which I found to be excellent, 
and it makes me want to read The Winter Sea
her first book in the Slains series!
Honestly, I've added nearly every single one of her releases to by TBR listing!
(I actually own a couple more of hers, but have yet to read them.)

I have a special place in my heart for books that manage to alternate
between two different settings/times/storylines, successfully 
interweaving them seamlessly in the end. 
This book certainly does that...and so much more!
Borders Book Club members really enjoyed it,
with the exception of one who still finds 
it difficult to follow alternating storylines. 
But I'm sure she'll get the hang of it over time. :)

Sara copes with Asperger's--her senses are, well..."very sensitive" and she can easily become "jangled and jarred," though her cousin, Jacqi is ever faithful and watchful, helping her to successfully negotiate society whenever possible. Sara is, and always has been, a 'numbers person.' Though numbers may serve a different purpose for her than for many others, as they provide a calming influence when her nerves are riled, helping her prevent major meltdowns when provoked. Jacqi and Sara are at a family wedding when Jacqi hands a piece of paper to her with the following numbers and text written on it: (8)
As it turns out, this is a cipher from a handwritten diary that a famous historian is determined to have decoded, as he is convinced it will provide him with needed material for a book he is writing about the Jacobite exiles who existed some 300 years in the past. Since Sara is currently out of work, she agrees to meet the author to see if the job of transcribing this diary is something she would want to do, and he would want her to do for him. There is one minor glitch--the job itself would have to be completed in Paris, France--they're currently located in England. Sara translates this message within 17 minutes:
Letter intercepted. France unsafe. (10)
This message alone is enough to pique Sara's interest in the diary and what information it may contain. It appears Sara would be very well-qualified to complete this type of code-breaking work, given her interest in numbers, her skills, and her perfectionist tendencies.

Mary Dundas had authored this diary and when we meet her in mid-January of 1732:
It seemed on that morning...that the new year intended to go on exactly the same as the last, bringing all the excitement, surprise, and adventure she'd come to expect in her twenty-one years: namely, none. (26)
This made me chuckle and smile. In discussing citizenship, Mary declares herself "nationless" as her mother was French, but her father was "an exile at the French court of a foreign king who had himself no country and no crown." This was King James VIII of England who had been denied the throne, first settling in France and eventually Rome, under the protection of the Pope. Though she remembers little of her life during those first six years with her parents, she clearly remembers the day her father left, 
"Now, Mary," he had told her, "be a good lass for your uncle and your aunt, and mind your manners you've been taught, and use the sense that you've been given, and I promise you, 
you'll have a better life here than I ever could have given you."
At least that's what she thought he'd said. The years, perhaps, had rearranged his words and phrased them into a more sentimental speech within her memory, 
the same memory that insisted she'd replied to him, "I want to stay with you." 
And that his thumb had brushed a tear from her hot cheek, and he had said, 
"We do not always get the things we want." 
She did remember, clearly, that she'd cried for him and called him back, 
and that he had not turned. (32)
This passage made me tear up. How awful for a 6-year-old child, and she had siblings from whom she had been separated, too! Though suddenly, her younger brother (by 4 years), Gaspard, reappears, wanting to bring her to his home. I personally thought this felt a bit too sudden and spontaneous...but you hope you can trust your own brother, right?!? Though Mary was also a bit hesitant, asking her aunt if she was to have a choice, and the woman replied to her, "My dear, you always have a choice." Those prove to be prophetic words over time...

Sara is a very hard worker, 'driven' is the word I believe might best describe her work ethic. Mary is similarly a very hard worker, though their 'work' is of very different substance for each of them. Mary's is to serve as a member of a company of spies while Sara's is to unravel the various codings used to record Mary's experiences. While Mary's world expands to include situations she could never have imagined so does Sara's... Both women must be brave in their own way as they face challenges, Mary as an actor and Sara as a code/cipher breaker, but also as they each learn to trust and eventually love another. The one similarity between the two women in this respect was not to assume, but rather to allow themselves to get to know each person as an individual, regardless of their initial impression.

Kearsley better explains some aspects of Asperger's through Sara:
I'd always been puzzled when books about people with Asperger's claimed that 
we didn't have empathy...My problem wasn't that I didn't understand their feelings, 
only that I didn't have a clue how to respond to them. 
I never knew the proper thing to do or say. I wasn't good at comforting.  (207)
Sara has a huge lesson in 'synchronicity,' as I term it. She allows herself to 'comfort' Noah and in turn learns several different things, not the least of which is a key to breaking the newest cipher she has encountered in the diary...allowing her to continue working and translating. Having felt distinctly uncomfortable in the presence of children in the past, this is a breakthrough for her. This mirrors Mary's acceptance of MacPherson and the sense of 'protection' she begins to feel when in his presence, something to which I could personally relate. When I first met my husband...let's call him "Mr. G," and we started spending time together, I experienced that same feeling of being 'protected' while with him. I later confessed that to him and learned there were underlying reasons that probably contributed to my feeling that way in his presence, but it also informed me of a much deeper, more 'spiritual,' if you will, connection between the two of us. So I hoped this connection would prove to be just as happy for Mary in the end, as it has for me! 

I had to laugh as in one of the confrontations between Mary and MacPherson as they are about midway in their travels, Mary states that Frisque, her cocker spaniel, needs "to do his necessary business," so therefore she must leave the room. 
Whether MacPherson believed her or not he gave no indication, 
but answered her with a brief nod, that although not completely polite, was not rude. 
As with most of his gestures, as Mary had found, it fell stubbornly somewhere between. (316)
Ah, yes, that stoicism one might expect of a 'protector' of clandestine mission teams! And as they all learn, MacPherson is one smart man in many ways, particularly with regard to outwitting the 'other side,' as it were. And even if his plans go awry, he is still capable of saving them all. Mary begins to see a small chink appear periodically in MacPherson's armor, as in the discussion with Thomson's associate regarding slaves, when she states, "Slavery is a kind of death." He waxes on about how "well treated" are some of the slaves, etc., denouncing her "sentiment" as "wrong," when MacPherson intercedes, "She has a right to think as she decides." Mary sees for an instant "a pain so deep and dark" as she had never seen before in his he defended her right to voice her opinion. At one point, Mary asks "Hugh" (MacPherson's 'Christian name') if he would have killed her if she had tried to mail the letter she'd written to end her participation in this mission, and he replies, "The letter's burnt, and I've not killed ye. Let the past be past." Hah! At least he's willing to forgive, it seems. And then Luc is, Sara discovers, all too familiar with Asperger's and the meltdowns it can cause, since his own brother has dealt with it his whole life. Luc knows exactly how to comfort ('protect'?) those who must cope with the symptoms. 

Sara serves as a matchmaker of sorts, insisting that Jacqi bring the author to Chatou where she is staying. She hopes to reunite Claudine and Alistair, as she now realizes Claudine truly loves the man. She also realizes her own love as Mary's final entry mirrors her own thoughts and feelings:
In truth there is but one man in the whole of Rome whose honor I am certain of, 
whose friendship I have now come to rely upon, and if it were my choice to make, 
I would lay all my heart before him and refuse to leave his side. 
My father said we do not always get the things we want, and he was right; 
for though my aunt once reassured me I would always have a choice, 
if there is one before me now I do confess I cannot see it, so instead I must-- (449) 
And it is at this point that Sara realizes she does have a choice, and she follows through on her own decision. 

Upon learning of Hugh MacPherson's life experiences, Mary can only comment, as she watches him approach...
"...surely every broken thing can be rebuilt." (481)
As she states to Hugh, when he questions her regarding her determination "to go home,"
Mary gave a little shrug and looked deliberately away.
"Home, as you once told me, is not always where you left it." (487)
Ah, so true. Home is where you make it for yourself. Just as friends are "family you choose," one of my favorite sayings! And so, life continues, and couples try to make a go of living it together. 

In Kearsley's notes regarding the characters, she reminds me of Ariel Lawhon's thoughts about Ritzi and her treatment of this character as a villain or not, in 
The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress and the relief she felt when contacted by the real-life child of this historical character, as expressed in this follow-up posting to my review. I can appreciate the predicament for authors as they construct a fictional account of historical events. As Kearsley states,
It's one of my personal quirks that I can't make a person a villain unless I'm convinced, 
from the records available, that's what he was. 
However long dead these people might be, they were--and remain--people first, 
and as such they deserve to be written about with respect. (506)
I would think this a fair way to handle it. And we all know that people can be very complex, although they may appear to be villainous, the reality is that they most likely have a much gentler side, at the very least on occasion. 

Just as Hugh requests Mary to create a "different" ending, we learn that is exactly what Kearsley did for Marie Anne Thérèse Dundas, baptized on July 25, 1710, and died September 4, 1710. 
She wasn't given a chance at life. So I gave her one.
Writers can't truly change history, but we can decide...where a story should end.
Not being fond of the ending of Mary's tale, I wrote a different one.
I wrote a better one. (513)

As I reviewed portions of this book where I had left markers, 
I had to stop myself from continuing to reread it!
That, is the mark of a book I truly love reading.
I was shocked to realize how long this book was, 
because I was so totally enthralled while reading it 
that I didn't remember it being very long.

I highly recommend this one--very enjoyable with complex 
yet well-defined characters and many plot twists!

Has any book lately fulfilled your favorite characteristics?

Happy reading

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