One of the factors that is attractive for me in deciding to read a book is location. If a book takes place in an “exotic” location I’d like to visit, or if it is set in a place I’ve either lived in or visited before, I am more likely to read it. When I learned that A Small Fortune was set in both Mexico and Switzerland, I actually decided to read it because of the setting rather than the plot — although this is a completely plot-driven novel.
Celia Donnelly is an over-worked copy editor from Portland, Oregon, whose life isn’t all that extraordinary. She appears to be only lukewarm in her marriage to her husband of eighteen years, and has a somewhat strained relationship with her sixteen-year-old son. So when her husband decides to surprise them with a spring break vacation to Mexico, Celia jumps at the opportunity.
But the vacation does not end up being the vacation of Celia’s dreams. Less than 24 hours after their arrival, Celia is kidnapped and locked in a room for reasons she does not understand, yet her kidnappers seem to know everything about her. As the story unfolds, she begins to learn that her life and her history are not at all as she had thought.
I don’t want to give away too many details of this fast-paced thriller, because I don’t want to spoil the story for any potential readers. I will say that this was an enjoyable page turner. I don’t generally read a lot of mystery-type books, because I often find them too predictable, but that was definitely not the case with this book. It is full of drama and surprises.
Sometimes the drama is a little too high, and the storyline is a bit unbelievable, but that didn’t really take away from my enjoyment of the book. I don’t always expect books to be 100 percent realistic. I was a bit bothered a few times that the story jumped ahead without filling in all of the pieces in the protagonist’s chronology, but I imagine author Audrey Braun did this intentionally so as not to bog the story down too much.
If you are looking for a quick, easy read with lots of action and a little bit of romance, then A Small Fortune is an entertaining possibility.
I recently joined a new book discussion group, which I have been looking to do since I moved to Oregon. I belonged to 2 book discussion groups when I lived in Las Vegas, and I miss the camaraderie of connecting face-to-face with fellow bibliophiles and talking about the books I read — which almost always adds to my own interpretation of the book.
At tonight’s meeting, we discussed Téa Obreht’s 2011 novel The Tiger’s Wife.
Set in an unspecified Balkan country, the story is narrated by a 20-something woman named Natalia. Her grandfather has recently died and the story is largely told through flashbacks — jumping between the fairy tale-like stories her grandfather used to tell her of a tiger who lived near his childhood village and a deathless man he encountered at various stages in his life; Natalia’s childhood; and the present when Natalia is a young doctor, the same career path chosen by her grandfather so many years ago.
At its core, this is a story about death and survival. It is set in a region that has frequently been torn apart by war throughout recent history. One of the main characters has the ability to foresee others’ time and cause of death, yet curses his own immortality. Perhaps there is not much happiness in the story, yet the folkloric elements kept me from feeling overly sad when I read it.
At times this is a difficult book to follow. The story frequently shifts between distant past, further past and present, and oftentimes breaks away for a back story. The character list is lengthy as well, and there are many subtle connections between characters and plots that are not blatantly obvious.
During the book group meeting, we talked about the complexity of the story and the multiple layers of symbolism. I was surprised by how much I missed in my own reading. One woman from our group shared that she didn’t really understand the symbolism until her second reading of the book. Clearly this is not an easy read, but a novel to possible be re-read and re-evaluated. It has the potential to eventually be considered a classic work of literature.
It is hard to believe the author was only in her mid-20s when she published this novel. In some regards, she reminds me of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, another internationally-acclaimed novelist who achieved renown at a young age for her ability to beautifully build stories of tragedy and loss. I am curious to see what else she produces in what I hope will be a long writing career for her.