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A young Lithuanian immigrant named Magdalena has a most unique trait --- which can be either a gift or a curse depending upon one's view. As a child she noticed images or scribbles on people's bodies. Once she learned to read, she realized that those images on human skin were actually words, words that described something about that person's life or perhaps foretold their future. There were even words written on the arms of her mother, who scolded and dismissed her when she tried to explain what she saw. The strange thing was that Magdalena's skin was totally blank. Because of poor eyesight, she wore glasses that brought the words into sharp focus. The only way she could avoid this continual assault of information was to remove her glasses and stumble around in a visual fog, which she did much of the time.

"Adelia Saunders has a vivid imagination, an excellent command of language, and the ability to empathize with the characters she has created."

Neil is a graduate student enjoying a year abroad, studying ancient history in London. He  joined his mentor/professor and fellow students in Paris to research an ancient pilgrimage related to Saint Jacques and a supposed miracle. Neil is a devoted academician who is a bit short on social skills. His father, Richard, has just arrived in Paris on a quest to track down information about his mother, a former writer and something of a scandal-ridden expat celebrity. Family lore claims that Richard's mother never visited him or even set eyes on him before abandoning him as a newborn, but he has a vivid and persistent childhood memory of hiding under his aunt's kitchen table and studying the red pumps that he later believed his mother was wearing. Can Richard's childhood memory really be trusted?

Magdalena is startled upon meeting Neil for the first time to recognize her name written on his face. Neil has become a bit obsessed with his research about Saint Jacques and the pilgrimages made to the Spanish coast where his body is said to have washed ashore, totally intact and covered in seashells. Richard's teaching career ended abruptly when he was forced out by a scandal that he insists he did not commit. Magdalena feels guilty about the death of her best friend, Lina. To assuage her guilt, she decides to make a pilgrimage to the Spanish coast with Lina's ashes.

All three main characters have very strong motives propelling them forward in this strange novel that is something of a mystery with lots of history thrown in. They are flawed, as all humans are, and trying to make sense of their lives. There are serendipitous meetings and frustrating missed connections that certainly affect the complicated plot. Just as the reader begins to make sense of the story, it wanders off in a different direction.

INDELIBLE requires total concentration by the reader. The plot and locations change as each character narrates his or her own story. Parts of the book are quite dark, and it is definitely not for the squeamish. That said, author Adelia Saunders has a vivid imagination, an excellent command of language, and the ability to empathize with the characters she has created. This debut novel will stay with the reader for quite some time, and it will be most interesting to see what subject she will choose for her next book.

Reviewed by Carole Turner on January 20, 2017

by Adelia Saunders

  • Publication Date: January 16, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • ISBN-10: 1632863952
  • ISBN-13: 9781632863959