cover image The Stars Are Not Yet Bells

The Stars Are Not Yet Bells

Hannah Lillith Assadi. Riverhead, $25 (240p) ISBN 978-0-593-08436-6

Assadi (Sonora) returns with a lyrical and melancholic tale of grief, love, and a marriage’s open secrets, narrated by a woman who has Alzheimer’s. In 1941, Elle Ranier and her jeweler husband, Simon, moved from New York City as young newlyweds to a remote island off the coast of Georgia in search of a variety of jewel akin to diamonds and known locally as the “blue legend.” Many people have drowned while seeking the minerals, which are believed to lie at the bottom of the ocean, and Simon’s fruitless search eventually leaves his business in shambles. Now, in 1997, Elle remembers her previous lover, Gabriel, in Brooklyn, whom she arranged to work with Simon on the island after claiming he was her cousin, and who died shortly after they arrived. Then, in 1961, Simon grows close with a geologist hired to prospect for the jewels. Elle’s reminiscences become hazy as a result of her Alzheimer’s, though “for a while, life remained in [her] bright dreams,” which evokes a sense of magic with images of mermaids and fairies. As the story of the trio’s arrival to the island and their subsequent misfortunes gradually unfolds, Elle circles around the secrets about her and Simon’s relationships with other men. The beauty of Assadi’s prose and the splendid depiction of a love that transcends death make for a singular rendition of an oft-told story. This will leave readers undone. Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Jan.)