The Winter Vault

Anne Michaels, Author . Knopf $25 (341p) ISBN 978-0-307-27082-5

Profound loss, desolation and rebuilding are the literal and metaphoric themes of Michaels’s exquisite second novel (after Fugitive Pieces ). Avery Escher is a Canadian engineer recently moved to a houseboat on the Nile with his new wife, Jean, in 1964. Avery’s part of a team of engineers trying to salvage Abu Simbel, which is about to be flooded by the new Aswan dam. His wife, Jean, meanwhile, carries with her childhood memories of flooded villages and the heavy absence of her mother, who died when she was young. Now, the sight of the entire Nubian nation being evacuated from their native land before it’s flooded affects both Avery and Jean intensely. Jean’s pregnancy seems a possible redemption, but their daughter is stillborn, and Jean falls into despair, shunning the former intimacy of her marriage. When the couple returns to Canada, they set up separate lives and another man enters the picture. Michaels is especially impressive at making a rundown of construction materials or the contents of a market as evocative as the shared moments between two young lovers. A tender love story set against an intriguing bit of history is handled with uncommon skill. (May)

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