cover image When the World Was Steady

When the World Was Steady

Claire Messud / Author Granta (NY) $19.95 (270p) ISBN 978-0-96

Two estranged sisters, their worlds turned upside-down, pursue separate quests for identity on exotic islands before being reunited in Messud's wonderfully observant debut novel. Emmy Simpson left London in 1960 at age 20 to marry a dashing Australian publisher. Twenty-seven years later, divorced (dumped by her husband for her friend) and at odds with her rebellious daughter Portia, a sculptor, she exits Sydney for the Indonesian isle of Bali. There, her credo that we create our destiny is sorely tested as she falls in with a group of exiles, misfits, long-haired idealists and eager young women dominated by a sleazy transplanted Australian antiques smuggler. Meanwhile, Emmy's prim, evangelical sister Virginia, who lives in London and cares for their invalid, eccentric, death-obsessed mother, is ordered to take a leave of absence by her married boss--on whom she has a mad crush. Her faith wavering, Virginia joins her mother on a trip to the isle of Skye in the Hebrides, accompanied by Nikhil Gupta, an Indian student, searching for his runaway sister, who eloped with a Scot. Shuttling among Sydney, London, Bali and Skye, the American-born Messud, who lives in London, weaves a beautiful, bittersweet story about the painful cost of self-knowledge and the unpredictability of life. (Sept.)