Canadian novelist Swan (The Wives of Bath, 1993, etc.) intertwines 18th- and 21st-century tales to lead two young women toward maturity and emotional fulfillment.
Archivist Luce Adams pauses in Venice to loan the Sansovinian Library a journal written by her ancestor, Asked For Adams, about a journey taken in 1797 with the notorious Giacomo Casanova, whose letters describing the trip accompany the diary. Along with Luce is Lee Pronski, the lesbian lover of Luce’s mother; the two women are en route to a memorial service in Crete, where Kitty Adams died in an automobile accident. Luce begins to read Asked For’s journal, which also begins in Venice; Asked For’s father, cousin to President John Adams, has been sent there on a trade mission, but dies suddenly of a fever. Rather than submit to the loutish American farmer her father wished her to marry, Asked For takes off with the aged but still fascinating Casanova for Istanbul, where he claims that his long-lost love is imprisoned in the Ottoman Sultan’s harem. In present time, Luce wishes she could escape from the embarrassing legacy of her mother, an archeologist who controversially embraced a feminist view of prehistoric life that stressed the importance of goddesses. She resents Lee, who broke up the cozy mother-daughter twosome (Dad was long gone), and the contemporary story mostly involves Luce sulking and Lee being overbearing as they head toward Crete. Asked For’s narrative is slightly more engaging; she’s calm and self-reliant, never indulging in the self-pity she’s far more entitled to than stuck-in-adolescence Luce. The parallels between the two tales are awfully neat, right down to the Ottoman manuscript that reveals Asked For’s happy final destiny and also leads Luce to a handsome Turkish translator. The blossoming of affection between Luce and Lee seems similarly contrived to satisfy the author’s plans rather than the characters’ needs.
Some nice historical color and a raft of exotic settings, hobbled by the pedestrian plot and a tiresome contemporary protagonist.