Victorine, a young married woman with two children, leaves an unhappy marriage and escapes to Indochina with her childhood sweetheart. They build a life there in the hot, humid weather, exotic flowers and swirls of opium smoke. Then, after 10 years, she goes back to France, back to her husband. She starts out planning to finally end things with him – ask for a divorce, explain things to her children – but she stays, has another child, lives out her life. I absolutely loved this first section of the book. Her descriptions of Indochina – the country, the people, the difficulties of adjusting to the climate and the language – are marvelous.
The frustrating thing about the book is that 95% of the story deals with her decision to leave her husband and her life in Indochina; only a small fraction at the very end deals with her return. There is no mention of how she was received by her old friends and neighbors, how she explained her absence, how she made peace – if she made peace – with her children. She and her husband had another child, but they also separated: there is virtually no explanation for that and there are no details, no explanations. She continued to see her childhood sweetheart after her marriage broke up – only a few brief paragraphs explain all of this. Although she saw him every summer from the time she and her husband separated until he died at age 62 (only 3 years before the story takes place), there is no explanation of how this started, why it continued, why they never married. If you like a story with closure and all the loose ends wrapped up, avoid this book.
When I originally wrote this review, I’d just finished the audiobook, which was an abridged version. After reviewing the full version, my main criticisms are still the same – there isn’t enough of a wrap-up. I am not one to require that every detail by explained, but there were far too many holes in this one for my taste.