Review: Shadows Over Paradise by Isabel Wolff
Published in 2015 by Bantam Books. Previously published internationally and printed under a different title (Ghostwritten by Isabel Wolff).
A childhood mistake. A lifetime of regrets.
Jenni is a ‘ghost’: she writes the lives of other people. It’s a job that suits her well: still haunted by a childhood tragedy, she finds it easier to take refuge in the memories of others rather than dwell on her own.
Jenni has an exciting new commission, and is delighted to start working on the memoirs of a Dutchwoman, Klara. As a child in the Second World War, Klara was interned in a camp on Java during the Japanese occupation – she has an extraordinary story of survival to tell.
But as Jenni and Klara begin to get to know each other, Jenni begins to do much more than shed light on a neglected part of history. She is being forced to examine her own devastating memories, too. But with Klara’s help, perhaps this is finally the moment where she will be able to lay the ghosts of her own past to rest?
Gripping, poignant and beautifully researched, Ghostwritten is a story of survival and love, of memory and hope. (Goodreads)
The main story follows Jenni, a ghost writer as she accepts the job of writing the memoir of 79 year old Klara who grew up in Java and the surrounding areas during WWII. Jenni takes the job for 3 reasons:
1. Break from longtime BF Rick, who wants children (and Jenni does not)
2. The job is intriguing.
3. Confront her own demons in the familiar coastal town of Cornwall.
This historical fiction novel focuses on the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies during WWII, but it’s so much more than that. The story begins with a flashback of August 1987 of a young girl named Evie and her younger brother. Something tragic happens, but what actually happens isn’t clear.
When Jenni travels to Cornwall for the memoir assignment she is faced with her past, one she has tried so hard to forget. Through her lengthy discussions with Klara, who has her own demons, the women open up and find that maybe enough time has passed that they are ready to confront their biggest fears and lay it all on the line.
The mystery of what happened to these 2 women drive the story forward. You get to know Klara so well. I began to feel this was more a story about her and what happened during WWII than anything to do with Jenni. By the end Klara’s story is complete, both women have faced their demons, but Jenni’s ending feels rushed.
Characters 5 Setting 4 Plot 4 Conflict 4 Resolution 3
Isabel Wolff’s ten bestselling novels are published worldwide. ‘Ghostwritten’, set in present day Cornwall and on wartime Java, was published in the UK in March 2014 and will be published in the US in February 2015 as ‘Shadows Over Paradise’. ‘The Very Picture of You’ was published in the UK and the US in October 2011. ‘A Vintage Affair’, was an Amazon.co.uk ‘Best of 2009’ title and was shortlisted by the American Library Assocation for their Reading List awards (Women’s Fiction). Isabel lives in west London with her children, younger step-son and cocker spaniel puppy. Become a Facebook fan of Isabel’s, follow her on Twitter or visit IsabelWolff.com