The debut novel Indelible by Adelia Saunders, who grew up in Durango, is a complex, intriguing and compelling tale. Saunders shares the story of Magdalena, a young Lithuanian woman living in England whose life becomes involved with a father and son who have become disconnected. This somewhat postmodern adventure is told through the viewpoints of the diverse characters of Magdalena, Neil and his father, Richard.
As a young child, Magdalena saw people with black marks on their skin. When she grew up and learned to read, she realized that the marks were words and that no one else saw them. The words describe a person’s life, past and future and are written all over their skin like macabre tattoos. Because this was upsetting to Magdalena, she uses her glasses rarely. Magdalena sees no writing on her own skin, which is a puzzle to her.
After the sudden death of her best friend, Lina, Magdalena is lost. She suffers not only grief but a sense of guilt, because if she had understood the Latin words on her friend’s skin, she might have saved her life. These intense feelings cause Magdalena to make a rash decision that leads her to Paris with her friend’s ashes and then compels her to join a group of pilgrims heading south.
Richard Beart is a retired teacher who is consumed with a quest having to do with his mother, Inga Beart, a flamboyant author who left her family ranch in rural Colorado to make a splash in Hollywood and France. She had a short, colorful life and made her fame by writing novels featuring vivid, well-drawn characters. When Richard was born, father unknown, his mother rejected him without laying eyes on him. He was raised by his aunt and uncle on the very ranch his mother left. He has a vivid childhood memory of her famous red shoes when she came to visit him, but everyone denies that she ever made the journey from France to see him.
Neil is a college student studying medieval history abroad in England. His favorite professor invites a few students to go to France to do research over the summer to prepare for an exhibition on the repaired tower of the church of St. Jacques-de-la-Boucherie. Neil’s job is to do research in the national archives, where he discovers papers about a forbidden pilgrimage by a monk. This intriguing information and an unexpected letter sends Neil traveling to Spain.
Another character is Dijana, Magdalena’s mother. Dijana worked in America for Richard and helped clean up the place after the deaths of his aunt and uncle. It is Richard and Dijana’s innocent desire to exchange small Christmas presents that sets events in motion.
Indelible is a story driven by characters that resonate with unspoken feelings buried just below the surface, frustrated dreams and unfulfilled desires. The characters and their stories are carefully folded back and forth in time. Their emotions as written by Saunders are nuanced and layered.
Saunders’ settings for events in this novel are rich in detail and texture. As Neil searches through ancient parchments in the archives, one can almost see the dust in the air. The streets of Paris wandered by Richard are easily envisioned. Saunders has crafted a truly unique and intriguing story that draws the readers into a world of mysterious happenings. When the story ends, the characters will still resonate in the mind. Indelible is a remarkable first novel and should appeal to many readers.
Leslie Doran is a retired teacher, freelance writer and former New Mexican who claims Durango as her forever home.