by Emilia Rosa
Finding Cristina: A New Life continues the story and adventures of Cristina Abramov* who is now a wife and mother, living in New York City. When the family takes a voyage back to visit Rio de Janeiro and Sonia Abramov, the woman who raised Cristina, disturbing incidents occur during the trip that develop unnervingly once in Rio, shattering the young family’s security and the new life they were building together…
As with the first novel, Finding Cristina: A New Life begins with a beautifully descriptive and evocative chapter. Rosa is adept at conjuring up the immediate sensory experience of a place with all its quirks and histories. In the opening few paragraphs, the reader is effortlessly transported to Rio de Janeiro.
Cristina is now married to Robert Laughton, the wealthy American she met in the earlier book and they have a young son, Donny. Life is good and the reader is brought relatively effortlessly back up to speed as they begin their journey to Rio.
However, it’s not long before some worryingly odd events transpire and straightaway the reader is plunged into a number of mysteries surrounding Robert and Cristina and involving different characters who may or may not be who they say they are.
In continuity with the previous installment, Finding Cristina: A New Life encompasses historical fiction, romance, and mystery but this story makes a sharper distinction between the three, and there are fewer comic touches although, the action does still have a caper-ish feel at times.
Rosa excels in writing historical fiction, absorbing herself and the reader into the period with her nuanced, intelligent detailing that threads through every aspect of dialogue, dress, and setting.
The novel contains a wealth of knowledge, research, and wonderfully archaic references. Although subtle, Rosa’s enthusiasm for and immersion into the world of Cristina et al., resonates and makes for contagious reading.
Also, the style in which Rosa writes subtly complements the age. No matter what happens to Cristina and Robert, the prose never loses its jaunty pace and quaintly charming tone. Her writing has a lovely, old-fashioned flavor without being stagey and provides the reader with a real sense of escapism.
The mystery element of the novel has several sub-plots and red herrings, most of which are eventually connected. Rosa is adept at keeping the plates spinning, building suspense, and feeding the reader clues and foreknowledge.
Occasionally, it becomes a touch dizzying especially when the narrative branches off with Robert in one corner and Cristina in the other with their various intrigues, but the action is so fast-moving that the reader is caught up and carried along toward points of resolution without time for too much confusion to reign.
Indeed, despite the title, this novel seems to be more of Robert’s story and it works well, especially the scenes onboard the SS Adolf (Sarita). Cristina is a curious contrast between the enigmatic and the pragmatic and yet at times in Finding Cristina: A New Life she appears otherworldly and oddly detached.
At this stage, Donny, Robert and Cristina’s son, is somewhat precocious but beguilingly so. Nonetheless, I did feel a prickly sense of uneasy foreboding about him and am interested to see where Rosa takes him in future novels.
Faithful retainer Bunky and his wife Maria form the backbone of the book and are both brilliantly authentic characters, warm and genuine. Notwithstanding, the glossy new addition to the cast, Rafael Souza, is a real standout, and, as with Donny, I look forward to meeting him again.
Finding Cristina: A New Life is a worthy successor to the first book and a tinkling charm of a novel. Highly recommended.
*Click here for my review of Finding Cristina.