Launch of a projected series about six sisters who were adopted from all over the world by a mysterious Swiss tycoon.
When word comes of the death of the seafaring adoptive father they fondly called Pa Salt, his six daughters gather at Atlantis, the estate on Lake Geneva where they grew up. The eldest, Maia—each daughter is named for a star in the Seven Sisters cluster, though a seventh sister never arrived—is the only one who hasn't left the nest: she works from home as a translator. Pa Salt left a will providing all his daughters with the means to pursue their wildly divergent paths but with specific instructions that each investigate her origin. The clues provided by Pa Salt—a moonstone necklace, a set of coordinates, and a triangular stone tile—lead Maia to a crumbling mansion in Rio de Janeiro; the sole inhabitants, an old woman named Senhora Carvalho and her maid, Yara, are initially suspicious but relent when they note a family resemblance. A mammoth flashback comprises the bulk of the book. In 1927, Maia’s great-grandmother Izabela “Bel” Bonifacio, the daughter of a wealthy Italian coffee grower, is betrothed to Gustavo Cabral, scion of one of Rio’s most aristocratic Portuguese families. The Cabrals need the Bonifacio money, and the Bonifacios need the Cabrals’ social cachet. Against a backdrop of the Great Depression and the building of Rio’s giant statue of Christ, a tangled tale unspools of Bel’s affair with a Parisian sculptor, of Gustavo’s despair and forgiveness, and of Beatriz, the child of dubious parentage born to them. Maia’s interview with the dying Beatriz reveals additional startling clues about her lineage. The novel churns through a lot of exposition and logistics before racing to a satisfactory payoff. Maia’s frame story seems almost an afterthought, though—the Bonifacio-Cabral saga is clearly the main event.
Although the conceit of six sisters searching for their birth parents is certainly intriguing, one hopes the future books will achieve a better balance between past and present.