A woman’s discovery of her spiritual roots makes for a bizarre but compelling read.
Wealthy Coloradoan Jenny Swifter is suffering from an undefined sense of emptiness in her life when an old acquaintance sends her pieces of ruins from an archeological dig in Mesopotamia, some of which bear images with a striking resemblance to Jenny’s face. Armed with nothing but a hodgepodge of historical artifacts, Jenny embarks on a voyage to her ancestral Slovakia, unsure of what she seeks, but certain it’s there. Her travels with a Slovak guide Tonio–whose shoddy English makes him endearing and his knowledge of history prevents him from becoming a buffoonish sidekick–turn into a quest to understand how her Slavic heritage connects her to a 13th-century Middle Eastern noblewoman. The able, descriptive prose does not race through the lesser details of Jenny’s journey, but paints a picture of the foreign countryside while still building a sense of mystery, as visits to cursed ruins and half-forgotten villages keep readers’ curiosity piqued. The plot takes an unexpected turn when a visit to a mystic casts the story into Jenny’s spirit past, and follows the tumultuous history of her former self, Janina. If the reader is able to stomach the abrupt shift (and the contrived exchanges between Jenny’s hovering spirit and that of its former maid, which end many chapters), the saga of the naÃ¯ve but headstrong Janina, who finally prevails after being betrayed by a lover and sold into slavery, can be as enchanting as the fairy tale-esque narrative voice. Still, an unnecessary aura of mysticism pervades the book, given that it fails to adequately explain why Jenny’s past life was conjured up in the first place.
Well-written historical fiction, in spite of ambiguous otherworldly undertones.