Book Reviews, Historical Fiction

Every Word Unsaid: A Novel, by Kimberly Duffy — A Review

From the desk of Katie Jackson:

J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote that “not all those who wander are lost.” That is certainly true for some; for others, they have convinced themselves they are on a mission, all the while searching for a true purpose. It is this concept, as well as the topic of another of Tolkien’s classic lines— “Faithless is he who says farewell when the road darkens”—that is explored in Kimberly Duffy’s latest historical fiction novel, Every Word Unsaid.

In the America of the late 1890s, Augusta Travers is on a mission to prove to herself, her family, and society’s naysayers that a woman can be an adventurer. “Nothing brought [her] more joy than slipping away.” (Loc 37) With her Kodak camera, she travels around the country, documenting her escapades with photographs and whimsical depictions in the popular column she writes anonymously for a ladies’ magazine. Her readers “expected greater things from Gussie than her own family, who only wanted her to marry well.” (Loc 209) Her elite, social-climbing New York family not only disapproves of her and her work, but also fears the scandal they may be embroiled in by association if her identity is ever revealed and her reputation ruined. She spends all of her time escaping her family’s suffocating condemnation. “Life at home… It stifles me. I feel as though I’m drowning in the tedium of it. I can’t breathe there. Exploring and writing and taking photographs makes me feel alive.” (Loc 326)

When the feared scandal eventually occurs, Gussie once again sees an opportunity to flee the oppressive expectations of her status as a young woman in a wealthy family. This time, though, she journeys to India, where her steadfast childhood friends now reside. And it is unlike anything she has ever experienced or expected. “America, with its youthful zeal and brazen thirst, whispered a sonnet to Gussie’s heart. But India sang, her voice a thunderous roar, to the percussion of drums.” (Loc 1058)

The colorful chaos of India’s welcoming embrace encourages Gussie to hope for a more meaningful life. But as her eyes are opened to the cruel injustices beyond her camera lense, will she choose to shine a light on the shadows or slip away from the suffering?

This was a beautifully written tale. And I usually admire flawed characters; relatable flaws lend authenticity to stories. However, I could not quite overcome my aversion to this heroine. Her family situation simply did not convincingly explain her spoiled behavior throughout the story. The way Gussie treated even the people who loved and admired her most was distastefully immature. I expected her to eventually evolve through her experiences, and to a certain extent, she did. Yet even after witnessing real adversity—like plague and famine and the violent plight of truly oppressed women—she just could not seem to dismiss her self-centered focus. She was not cold-hearted by any means, and she was certainly affected by what she witnessed, but that was ultimately the issue—she was absorbed by how it all affected her. This is the first time in a long time that I did not want the hero to fall for the heroine.

There are so many other wonderful elements woven into the fabric of this tale that redeemed it for me. The fascinating secondary characters had a depth and heart to them that made me wish to know more about them. The book’s stunning and intriguing cover art merely hints at the loveliness of the lyrical prose behind it. The descriptions of both beauty and agony are visceral and hypnotic.

Readers will appreciate the delicate essence of shared experiences that transcend both time and borders in Every Word Unsaid.

4 out of 5 Stars

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Every Word Unsaid: A Novel, by Kimberly Duffy

Bethany House (November 2, 2021)

Hardcover, eBook, & audiobook (368)

ISBN: 978-0764235658

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOK DEPOSITORY | BOOKSHOP | GOODREADS

We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose.com is an Amazon.com affiliate. We receive a modest remuneration when readers use our links and make a purchase.

Cover image courtesy of Bethany House © 2021; text Katie Jackson © 2021, Austenprose.com

3 thoughts on “Every Word Unsaid: A Novel, by Kimberly Duffy — A Review”

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