Want a nice summer read? With some romance, time travel, civil war and some nice story telling? The you should read What the Wind Knows. It is not the most original story I ever read. But it is entertaining, I was never bored and if Harmon publishes another book I will definitely give it a go.
Ann is an extremely successful novelist born and raised in New York, but although she is very much an American, she been deeply aware of her family’s Irish roots. Her grandfather Owen who raised her immigrated from Ireland in the 1930s and gave his only grandchild a childhood steeped in Irish fairytales, Gaelic language and Irish history. Now Owen has passed away and Ann takes it upon herself to bring his ashes back to the loch he grew up by outside Sligo. It is her first visit to the country and she anticipated that if would be an emotional journey, but understandably she did not think she would actually be sent 80 years back in time when she rowed across the loch. Ann discovers that she has inexplicably ended up in 1921, in a time when the Irish civil war is brewing. She is taken in by the local doctor, Thomas Smith who is raising a little boy called Owen in his house… Owen’s father Declan was killed in the Easter Rising five years back and the boy’s mother Ann was believed to be killed to although her body never was found. But here is our modern Ann, a near identical twin to her great grandmother. Can we blame Thomas and Owen for thinking that their Ann has returned to them, although traumatized and changed by the violence she must have witnessed? Our heroine is unable to get back to the lake and her own time, so willingly steps into the role of her own ancestor. She finds herself raising her own grandfather, discovering how much of the wisdom and saying he gave her actually comes from herself, and she falls in love with Thomas Smith, the reliable, kind hearted and intelligent doctor. But how long can she keep up the masquerade of being a different woman? And what should she do her knowledge og the upcoming terrible war?
To write a time-travel romance is fraught with danger: So many pitfalls can turn a great idea into soapy, badly research garbage. Diana Gabaldon is the queen of this genre and Stephen King also did a good job with 11.22.63, but I can list a number of authors that completely fail to write a convincing narrative about finding love and establishing a life in the past or the future. I understand why this is difficult. The author must provide a satisfactory explanation of why the main character is able to settle in the past, say goodbye to their present and manage in quite an unfamiliar time and society. He or she must explain how a romance could grow when one part in the relationship (usually the main character) keeps the enormous secret that they are from another time. And the author must give a largely accurate description of the time period avoiding annoying anachronisms, and give the reader information about the time in a way that does not remove us from the narrative. Harmon has managed to avoid most of these pitfalls in this book.
First of all, we are given a reasonable cause for accepting Ann’s willingness to make a go of life in 1920s: Her life in New York is lonely one. Her grandfather was her only family and seemingly her only friend. The solitary existence she lead in the 21th century appeals less to her than the life with a little boy and a family in a country and time period that has fascinated her all her life. Second, we are also given good reason why Ann is able to adapt to the new country and culture she finds herself in: Her grandfather Owen soaked her childhood in Irish culture and costumes and she seems almost more at home with Irish traditions and language than with American culture. Third, romance between Ann and Thomas grows slowly and only blossoms after she reveals her true identity to him. From the very beginning Thomas notices that Ann has changed since he last saw her. Her newfound knowledge and love of literature, her insecurity around people she previously knew well could perhaps be explained, but why does she no longer have a gap between her teeth? How come her dyslexia is gone? It is understandable that it takes a long time before he can accept the explanations she offers him, and his unease towards her before and after the revelation seems only natural.
But despite the coherent plotting and the organic relationships found within this book, I cannot say that Harmon gets everything right. Harmon is less successful in giving the reader information about the time period and the historical events. The dialogue between the characters is at times hampered by expository elements, talking to each other about information they absolutely would know beforehand. The dialogue just becomes unnatural. Another problem with the book is that Ann enters a tight-knit community in which her great grandmother lived her entire life. A part of the storyline is that Ann travels with Thomas when he is called out to child births and accidents. How come not a single person asked her a personal question she could not answer?
Despite this at times annoying aspect to the writing, Harmon has created some very likable characters. Ann is clever, proactive and caring – all excellent qualities in a heroine. At times she seems strangely comfortable about raising her own grandfather, but still. Harmon has also made an unconventional romantic interest in Thomas. He is not extremely handsome, not muscular or tall. Ann comes to think of him has beautiful as time goes on and she gets to know him, as most happens to most people. I rooted for the two of them all the way through.