It is 1973. Jim Kennoway, a distinguished ornithologist and Second World War veteran, has just left his work at the Natural History Museum in New York, turned his back on his family and retreated to an island boathouse off the coast of Maine. His desires are simple: to be left alone with his cigarettes, gin and battered copy of Treasure Island, and to forget.
Jim's solitude is shattered when Cadillac Baketi, a tall, ebullient and dazzlingly bright young woman from the Solomon Islands arrives on her way to study medicine at Yale University. Cadillac is the daughter of Tosca, an island scout Jim befriended during the war when they collected and skinned birds while spying on the Japanese. Jim curses the intrusion as he finds his thoughts catapulting back to his youth and a dark truth about his time in the Solomons. Yet it may be that Cadillac, from the Pacific islands Jim thought he'd left behind, can teach him to be human again.
On a bleak cold island Jim is sitting trying to forget how he used to live. When he had two legs, when he did something. Now he is hiding. His son does get him to write an article about Treasure Island so he does something at least instead of drinking gin all day. And I do get it, he loved his work, his birds and now he can't get around like he used to.
In comes Cadillac, the daughter of the scout who guided him through jungles during the war. Here we get flashbacks about his time in the Solomons, watching birds, hiding from the Japanese. Cadillac does not do a lot in a way, she misses the warm water and her home. But she is more the catalyst of him remembering more and more.
I also learned something about the Pacific war, and it was horrific.
It's a melancholic book, some move on, some do not.
An enjoyable book I spent an afternoon reading.
Paperback, 336 pages
Published May 1st 2014 by Atlantic Books (first published August 13th 2013)