Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden embraces the old fashioned idea of good storytelling. The mystery begins in 1913, when a young girl appears, apparently abandoned, on a ship headed for Australia. The tiny girl, instructed by a lady "to wait, it wasn't safe yet," to tell no one her name that "she would be back shortly" hid from the ship's personnel until the voyage was a day out.
Taken in by a dock-master and his wife who raise her as their own, "Nell" finds out on her twenty-first birthday that the family she lived with was "adopted," and the only clue to her real family is a small, white leather suitcase, packed with a little girl's toiletries and a couple of fairy tales with elaborate illustrations. The news shatters her life, and as Nell notes, "[she] watched as the bottom fell out of her world and the person she had been vanished in an instant." She determines to find her beginnings, a quest that will last her lifetime, and the secrets surrounding her past are gradually uncovered first by her and then concluded by her grand-daughter, a woman broken by her own misfortunes.
The power of this book lies in the telling as Morton unravels Nell's past layer by layer. What I appreciated was that Morton's characters seemed real, the mistakes and choices they made believable, and Nell's past wasn't some dark and dirty perverted tale, but a past that turned "into something of an old friend, the sort who arrives and refuses to leave."
Thanks to my dear friend, Wingate, for recommending this book to me.