Darwin's Wink: A Novel of Nature and Love

Darwin's Wink: A Novel of Nature and Love

by Alison Anderson

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"A love story, a war story, an ecological adventure, a biological poem, and a treatise on the fragility of life--Darwin's Wink has it all. The writing is so incantory that it almost floats off the page. In Fran, Alison Anderson has created a strong, flawed, and utterly believable heroine.... Like the elusive, bejeweled mourning bird it celebrates, this book will waken its readers to unexpected wonders. A beautiful book. I loved it."
- Molly Giles, author of Iron Shoes

The author of the critically acclaimed Amelia Earhart novel Hidden Latitudes offers a beautifully crafted story about two naturalists, both damaged by ghosts from the past, who find love as they work to save a rare bird species off the coast of Mauritius--and fend off a powerful townsman who is threatened by their presence.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466832572
Publisher: St. Martin''s Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/01/2005
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
File size: 548 KB

About the Author

Alison Anderson lived in Greece, France, England, and Switzerland before moving to San Francisco, where she now works as a writer and translator. She is the author of Hidden Latitudes (1996), a novel of Amelia Earhart based on Anderson's yearlong sailing trip on a 30-foot ketch, which was nominated for the San Francisco Chronicle's Best Book of the Year and the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

At dusk the woman stands at the edge of the island to watch the birds in flight above the lagoon. Hers is not a usual, distant, appreciative watching; she has a trained eye, and she looks for signs in the birds' flight, for the slow, imperceptible markers of evolution.

She is in a place where evolution can be witnessed in a bird's lifetime, not far from the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Two generations of Dutch and Portuguese explorers transformed an uninhabited fifteenth-century paradise into a laboratory for naturalists for centuries to come. There were the plant and animal species they brought: tamarind, eucalyptus, banyan, casuarina and flame trees, sugarcane; cats, dogs, mongooses, rats, asses, monkeys. Humans. There were the species they destroyed or endangered: entire forests, the habitat for hundreds of small wild creatures. Their most famous victim: the dodo bird, Rapphus cucullatus.

The woman's name is Fran, a sturdy, practical name, like the woman herself. She has been studying the evolution of birds all her life. She is a trained naturalist, a behavioral ecologist, efficient and unsentimental. She accepts the inevitability of death but refuses the inevitability of extinction. She is closer to fifty than to forty, an unpopular age, although for her, age is a man-made convenience, a sort of Linnaean classification system used to facilitate assumptions. She sees aging in more Darwinian terms, and her own age troubles her only for its childlessness; the years have given her a wise and youthful strength. She is sun-hardened, life-hardened, life-ripened, with short graying hair, and sharp blue eyes that can spot a kestrel a mile away. She is a woman with an instinct for the coming hurricane and a loneliness like a bastion, impregnable.

Now she turns, and the young man is there. Ah, you've finished unpacking, she calls. A friendly statement, formal nonetheless; she does not know what to say to this stranger in her domain.

His name is Christian; he looks older than his thirty-some years. He is unmarried, perhaps childless, sunburnt, burnt-out, life-shattered, a gentle lad with brown eyes behind wire frames, a small neat mustache, and a shock of dark hair, a shock of dark experience. Christian is Swiss. He used to be a delegate for the International Committee of the Red Cross, and he had tried to save humans. He had been trained to believe in the inevitability of war, but his experience left him with a deep scar of failure: as if he were witnessing his own extinction. A survivor from a land of refugees, he has been driven to the island to survive himself, to seek protection behind this woman's knowing fortress—-although he does not know this yet. He believes he is seeking refuge among the birds, to work with Fran on Egret Island.

Egret Island lies half a mile off the coast of Mauritius: a hatchling of coral reef, separated from its mother island by a lagoon swept daily by the trade winds of the Indian Ocean. Egret has been designated a nature reserve by the Mauritian government; Fran is the field worker charged by an independent foundation with returning the island to its prehuman condition. She will replace the exotic with the endemic; she will restore birds and small reptiles to their natural habitat. And she will try to save the mourner-bird from extinction.

There are no egrets on Egret Island. After the Portuguese and the Dutch came the French and the British, and the egrets, too, vanished.

Copyright 2004 by Alison Anderson

Reading Group Guide

About this Guide
The following author biography and list of questions about Darwin's Wink are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this novel. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach Darwin's Wink.

About the Book
On an island off the coast of Mauritius, two naturalists fight to save a rare species of bird, discovering each other in the process. Both are haunted by old ghosts: Fran mourns the mysterious death of her Mauritian lover; Christian, a former Red Cross worker, has recently left the Bosnian war after the disappearance of the woman he loves. As they slowly learn to trust again, the two must also contend with strange attacks on the island which put their greatest accomplishments in peril.

"Dreamy, lushly written . . . [A] rich emotional palette . . . Anderson captures the expansive beauty of Mauritius and the nuances of human character with languid, sensual . . . prose." —Publishers Weekly

"A love story, a war story, an ecological adventure, and a treatise on the fragility of life—Darwin's Wink has it all. The writing is so incantatory that it almost floats off the page. A beautiful book." —Molly Giles, author of Iron Shoes

"Written in a prose so concise and clear that it could be poetry. Perfect, perfect, perfect." —Greg Sarris, author of Watermelon Nights

"A delicately observed, beautifully written, unusual story." —Lynn Freed, author of House of Women
About the Author
Alison Anderson has lived in Switzerland, Greece, France, and Croatia, and is now based in
Northern California. She is a recent NEA grant recipient for literary translation. Her novel
Hidden Latitudes, which was based on a sailing trip on a thirty-foot ketch, was a San Francisco
Chronicle Best Book of the Year.

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