Cover image for Shadows over paradise : a novel
Shadows over paradise : a novel
Wolff, Isabel, author.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Bantam Books, [2015]
Physical Description:
xxi, 360 pages ; 21 cm.
"When young ghostwriter Jenni Clark agrees to pen the memoir of an elderly farm owner, she expects nothing more than the ordinary, quiet tale of a life well-lived by a woman well-loved. But Klara's life has been far from quiet; and as she narrates her story of a family ripped apart by life in the internment camps of Java during World War II, Jenni finds herself forced to face her own ghosts, products of a long-buried, devastating childhood secret"--
General Note:
Includes author Q&A and discussion questions.
Format :


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Central Library FICTION Adult Fiction Central Library
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Lancaster Library FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
North Park Branch Library FICTION Adult Fiction Paperback
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Julia Boyer Reinstein Library FICTION Adult Fiction Open Shelf
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For readers of Kate Morton and Jamie Ford comes a captivating novel of two very different women, struggling to come to terms with the ghosts from their past--by the internationally bestselling author of A Vintage Affair and The Very Picture of You

Sometimes the only way forward is through the past.

Jenni Clark is a ghostwriter. She loves to immerse herself in other people's stories--a respite from her own life, and from a relationship that appears to be nearing its end. Jenni's latest assignment takes her to a coastal hamlet in England, where she's agreed to pen the memoir of an elderly farm owner named Klara. Jenni assumes the project will be easy: a quiet, ordinary tale of a life well lived.

But Klara's story is far from quiet. She recounts the tale of a family torn apart by World War II, and of disgraceful acts committed against a community in the Japanese prison camps on the Pacific island paradise of Java. As harrowing details emerge and stunning truths come to light, Jenni is compelled to confront a secret she's spent a lifetime burying.

Weaving together the lives of two very different women, Isabel Wolff has created a captivating novel of love, loss, and hope that reaches across generations.

Praise for Shadows Over Paradise

"An excellent choice for fans of Sarah Jio and Kate Morton." -- Booklist

"Shifting focus from the present to the past with ease, this novel brings to the page the reality of the horrors of the Japanese-run internment camps in vivid and gory detail. Wolff's latest will please fans of women's stories that include a realistic depiction of life during wartime and the ability to overcome adversity." -- Library Journal

"Beautifully written . . . an outstanding book club selection . . . If you liked Jamie Ford's novels [then] you'll like Shadows Over Paradise ." -- Huntington News

Praise for Isabel Wolff

"With a wide cast of realistic, wonderfully drawn characters, a deft blending of the past with the present, and a seemingly effortless managing of several plots at once, this charming novel . . . deserves a place in all popular fiction collections." -- Library Journal (starred review) , on A Vintage Affair

"Captivating, seductive . . . This novel reflects how beauty exists in all facets of life, especially in people." -- RT Book Reviews , on The Very Picture of You

Author Notes

Isabel Wolff was born in Warwickshire, England, and attended Cambridge University. She worked for BBC World Service radio for twelve years as a producer and reporter in Features and Current Affairs. She also wrote freelance articles for many magazines and newspapers including The Spectator, the Evening Standard, and the Independent. In 1997, the Daily Telegraph commissioned her to write a comic, girl-about-town column, Tiffany Trott. Within a month of the first column appearing, she was signed by HarperCollins to turn Tiffany's adventures into a book. Her other novels include Forget Me Not and A Vintage Affair.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

A chance encounter at a friend's wedding puts ghostwriter Jenni Clark in contact with Klara Tregear, an elderly woman who survived an internment camp in the Dutch East Indies during WWII. Klara wants to share her story, and despite her misgivings, Jenni journeys to Cornwall to interview Klara. Klara's story is unrelentingly brutal as the war raged on, life in the camps grew increasingly difficult, forcing family and friends to betray one another in order to survive. The process is intense for both women, and Jenni's time with Klara forces her to examine her own past. Told in the alternating voices of Jenni and Klara, popular British writer Wolff's (The Very Picture of You, 2011) latest is a dual-period saga featuring two women haunted by tragic family secrets. The blossoming friendship and understanding between Jenni and Klara help them both find a way to forgive themselves for the events of their childhood and move toward true happiness. An excellent choice for fans of Sarah Jio and Kate Morton.--Donohue, Nanette Copyright 2015 Booklist

Library Journal Review

Working as a ghostwriter allows Jenni to immerse herself in other people's stories to the exclusion of her own. In fact, her inability to deal with a devastating event in her past is causing her current romantic relationship to unravel. When she travels to Cornwall, England, to work on the memoir of a soon-to-be octogenarian named Klara, Jenni finds herself at the site of the incident that has haunted her since childhood. Klara also experienced trauma at an early age as the result of being imprisoned by the Japanese in various camps on Java during World War II. Though separated by decades and life circumstances, the two women are surprised to discover they share a deep connection. Will it be enough to help them process the phantoms of their histories? VERDICT Shifting focus from the present to the past with ease, this novel brings to the page the reality of the horrors of the Japanese-run internment camps in vivid and gory detail. Wolff's (A Vintage Affair) latest will please fans of women's stories that include a realistic depiction of life during wartime and the ability to overcome adversity.-Karen Core, Detroit P.L. (c) Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



One I knew that Nina's wedding was going to change things between Rick and me, though I could never have guessed by how much. Up until then, it had all been so easy--­he and I had ­fitted into each other's lives as though we'd always known one another. And now we were going to a wedding--­our first one together--­and suddenly being with Rick was hard. "They've got great weather for it," he remarked as I locked the door of our small North London flat. The early haze had given way to a pristine blue sky. "A good omen," I said as we walked to the car. Rick beeped open his old Golf. "I didn't know you were superstitious, Jenni. But then I don't know everything about you." There was a slight edge to his voice. "Well, I am superstitious." I put our gift, in its silvery bag, on the backseat. "But then I was born on Friday the thirteenth." Rick smiled. "That should make you immune." We drove west, talking pleasantly but with an unfamiliar reserve, born of the anguished conversations that we'd been having over the past two or three days. We sped down the A40 and were soon driving along rural roads past fields still stubbled and pale from the harvest. It was very warm for mid-­October, and clear--­an Indian summer's day, piercingly beautiful with its golden light and long shadows. Nina's parents lived at the southern end of the Cotswolds. Over the years I'd visited the house for weekends or the occasional party--­Nina's twenty-­first, and her thirtieth, which was already five years ago, I reflected soberly. For fifteen years, she and Honor had been my closest friends. And today it was Nina's wedding, and before long, no doubt, there'd be a christening. Rick glanced at me. "You okay, Jen?" "Yes. Why?" He downshifted a gear. "You sighed." "Oh . . . no reason. I'm just a bit tired." A bad sleeper at the best of times, I'd lain awake most of the night. As I'd stared into the darkness, I'd longed for Rick to hold me and whisper that everything would be all right, but he'd turned away. "So where do we go from here?" For a moment I thought that Rick was talking about us. "Which way?" I spotted the sign for Bisley. "Go right." Minutes later we turned on to Nailsford Lane, where a clutch of white balloons bobbed from a farm gate. "Looks like we're the first," Rick remarked as we drove into the parking field, which was empty except for an abandoned tractor. He parked in the shade of a huge copper beech; as he opened his door, I could hear its leaves rustle and rattle. "Is it going to be a big do?" "Pretty big--­about eighty, Nina told me." "So, who will I know, apart from her and Jon?" I pulled down the visor and checked my reflection in the mirror. "I'm not sure--­she's invited quite a few of the people we knew at Bristol; not that I've stayed in touch with that many . . ." I winced at my red-­veined eyes and pale cheeks. "I've only really kept up with Nina and Honor." I wound my long, dark hair into a bun, then pinned onto that the pale-­pink silk flower that matched my dress. Rick pulled a blue tie out of his jacket pocket. "So I guess Honor will be here?" "Of course." Rick grimaced; I glanced at him. "Don't be like that, Rick--­Honor's lovely." "She's exhausting." "Exuberant," I countered, wishing that my boyfriend was a bit keener on my best friend. He groaned. "She never stops talking. So she's in the right job, not that I listen." "You should--­her show's the best thing on Radio Five." As Rick looped and twisted the blue silk, I suppressed a dark smile. He's tying the knot, I thought. Reaching into the back for the gift, I saw more cars arriving, bumping slowly over the field. We made our way across the grass, which was studded with dandelion heads, their downy seeds drifting like plankton. We strolled up Church Walk, then pushed on the lych-­gate, which was garlanded with moon daisies, and went up the graveled path. Jon was waiting anxiously by the porch with his brothers, all three men in morning dress with yellow silk waistcoats. They greeted us warmly and we chatted for a minute or two; then the photographer, who had been sorting out his camera on top of a tomb, offered to take a picture of Rick and me. "Let's have a smile," he said as he clicked away. "A bit more--­it's a wedding, not a funeral," he added genially. "That's better." There was another volley of clicks, then he squinted at the screen. "Lovely." Tim handed Rick and me our Order of Service sheets, and we walked into the cool of the church. I'd been to Saint Jude's before but had forgotten how small it was, and how simple the interior, with its plain walls, wooden roof, and box pews. There was the smell of beeswax and dust and age, mingled with the scent of the oriental lilies that festooned the columns and pulpit. It was also very light, with clear glass, except for the east window, which depicted Christ blessing the children. The sun streamed through its colored panes, scattering jeweled beams across the whitewashed walls. "Lovely church," Rick murmured as we sat down. "It is," I agreed, though today its beauty was a shard in my heart. Rick and I glanced through our service sheets as the church filled up, heels tapping over the flagstones, wood creaking as people sat down, then chatted quietly or just listened to the Bach partita the organist was playing. Jon's parents went to their seats. Behind them I recognized a colleague of Nina's, and now here was Honor, in a green bombshell dress that hugged her curves and complemented her creamy skin and blond hair. She blew me and Rick an extravagant kiss, then sat near the front. Now Jon and his older brother, James, took their places together, while their younger brother, Tim, ushered in a few latecomers. Nina's mother, in a turquoise opera coat and matching hat, smiled benignly as she made her way to her pew. I turned and caught a glimpse of Nina. She stood on the porch, in the white silk dupion sheath that Honor and I had helped her choose, her veil drifting behind her. As the Bach drew to an end, the vicar stepped in front of the altar and welcomed everyone. Then there was a burst of Handel, and we all stood as Nina walked down the aisle on her father's arm. After the opening prayers we sang "Morning Has Broken," then Honor stepped up to the lectern to read the sonnet that Nina had chosen. "My true love hath my heart, and I have his," she began, her dulcet voice echoing slightly. "By just exchange one for the other given. I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss. There never was a better bargain driven . . ." As Honor read, I felt a sting of envy. The lovers understood each other so well. I'd thought I had that with Rick . . . "My true love hath my heart--­and I have his," Honor concluded. The vicar raised his hands. "Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony . . ." I looked at Nina and Jon, side by side in a pool of light, and wondered whether these words would ever be said for Rick and me. "Nor taken in hand wantonly," the vicar was saying, "but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, and soberly, and in the fear of God, duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained." At that I felt Rick shift slightly. "First, it was ordained for the procreation of children . . ." I stole a glance at him, but his face gave nothing away. "Therefore, if any man can show any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else, hereafter, forever hold his peace." I tried to follow the service but found it suddenly impossible to focus on the music, or the sermon, or on the beauty and solemnity of the vows. As Nina and Jon committed themselves to each other with unfaltering voices, I felt another stab of pain. The register was signed, the last hymn sung, and the blessing given; then, as Widor's Toccata mingled with the pealing bells, we followed Nina and Jon outside. We showered the couple with petals and took snaps with our phones; then the photographer began the formal photos of them while we all milled around by the porch. "Great to see you! Fantastic weather!" "Lovely service--­much prefer the King James." "Me too. Well read, Honor!" "Should we make our way to the house?" "Not yet. I think they want a group pic." Rick and I, keen to get away from the crowd, strolled through the churchyard; we looked at the gravestones, most of which were very old and eroded, blotched with yellow lichen. Rick stopped in front of a slate headstone. "That's odd. It's got a pineapple on it." I looked at the carved image. "A pineapple means prosperity, as do figs, and I guess this was a prosperous area, probably because of the wool trade." We walked on in silence, past stones that had angels on them, and doves and candles, the symbolism of which was clear. We could hear the chatter of the guests, a sudden burst of Honor's unmistakable laughter, then the photographer's voice. "Could you look at me, Nina?" Rick approached another grave, by a yew. He peered at it. "This one's got a bunch of grapes carved on it." "Grapes represent the wine at the Last Supper." Rick glanced at me. "How do you know all this, Jen? I didn't think you were religious." "I had to research it for one of my books. It was years ago, but I've remembered a lot of it." "Now look at each other again." "Here's a rose," Rick said, pointing to another headstone. "I assume that means love?" "Oh, very romantic." "No. Roses show how old the person was when they died." I studied the worn emblem. "This is a full rose, which was used for adults." I read the inscription. "Mary Ann Betts . . . was . . ." I peered at her dates. "Twenty-­five. The stem's severed, to show that her life was cut short." "I see." Our conversation felt stiff and formal, as though we were strangers, not lovers. "Can we have a kiss?" "A partially opened rose means a teenager." "And another one. Lovely." "And a rosebud is for a child." "Hold his hand now." Rick nodded thoughtfully. "A sad subject." "Yes . . ." "Okay, all stand together, please--­nice and close!" Rick and I joined everyone for the group photo, for which the photographer climbed onto a stepladder, wobbling theatrically to make us all laugh. We smiled up at him while he clicked away, then, hand in hand, Nina and Jon led us down the path, across the field, to the house. The Old Forge was just as I remembered it--­long and low, its pale stone walls ablaze with pyracantha and Virginia creeper. A large marquee filled the lawn. In the distance were the hills of Slad, the plunging pastures dotted with sheep, their bleats carrying across the valley on the still air. We joined the receiving line, greeting both sets of parents, then the bride and groom. Nina's face lit up, and as we hugged I had to fight back sudden tears. I didn't know whether they were tears of happiness for her or of self-­pity. "You look so beautiful, Nina." "Thank you." She put her lips to my ear. "You next," she whispered. Jon kissed me on the cheek, then clasped Rick's hand. "Good to see you both! Thanks for coming!" "Congratulations, Jon," Rick said warmly. "It was a lovely service. Congratulations, Nina." Now we moved on into the large sunny sitting room where drinks were being served. I put our gift on a table among a cluster of other presents and cards. A waiter offered us a glass of champagne. Rick took one and raised it. "Here's to the happy couple." I sipped my fizz. "They are happy. It's wonderful." "How long have they been together?" "About the same as us. They got engaged on their first anniversary," I added neutrally, then laughed at myself for ever having thought that Rick and I might do the same. I looked at Rick, so handsome, with his open expression, dark hair, and blue gaze. I tried, and failed, to imagine life without him. We'd agreed to talk things over again the next day. Before I could think about that, though, a gong summoned us into the marquee, which was bedecked with white agapanthus and pink nerines, the tables gleaming with silver and china. We found our names and stood behind our chairs while the vicar said grace. Rick and I had been placed with Honor, and with Amy and Sean, whom I'd known at college but hadn't seen for years, and an old schoolfriend of Jon's, Al. I was glad that Nina had put him next to Honor; she'd been single for a while now, and he was very attractive. Also at our table was Nina's godfather, Vincent Tregear. I vaguely remembered him from her twenty-­first birthday. A near neighbor named Carolyn Browne introduced herself. I steeled myself for the effort of making small talk with people I don't know; unlike Honor, I'm not good at it, and in my frame of mind I knew it would be harder than usual. I heard Carolyn explain to Rick that she was a solicitor, recently retired. "I'm so busy though," she confessed, laughing. "I'm a governor of a local school; I play golf and bridge; I travel. I was dreading retirement, but it's really fine." She smiled at Rick. "Not that you're anywhere near that stage. So, what do you do?" He unfurled his napkin. "I'm a teacher--­at a primary school in Islington." "He's the deputy head," I volunteered proudly. Carolyn smiled at me. "And what about you, erm . . . ?" "Jenni." I turned my place card toward her. "Jenni," she echoed. "And you're . . ." She nodded at Rick. "Yes, I'm Rick's . . ." The word girlfriend made us seem like teenagers; partner made us sound as though we were in business, not in love. "Other half," I concluded, though I disliked this too; it seemed to suggest, ominously, that we'd been sliced apart. "And what do you do?" Carolyn asked me. My heart sank--­I hate talking about myself. "I'm a writer." "A writer?" Her face lit up. "Do you write novels?" "No," I replied. "It's all nonfiction. But you won't have heard of me." "I read a lot, so maybe I will. What's your name? Jenni"--­Carolyn peered at my place card--­"Clark." She narrowed her eyes. "Jenni Clark." "I don't write under that name." "So is it Jennifer Clark?" "No--­what I mean is, I don't write under any name." Excerpted from Shadows over Paradise: A Novel by Isabel Wolff All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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