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Book Review: Wrapped in the Stars by Elena Mikalsen

Maya Radelis has spent the last seven months running from herself. After the death of a patient, she leaves her pediatric residency in New York City for the jungles of Guatemala and the Family Health Volunteers Mission, but even after she exhausted her six-month leave, she still cannot bring herself to return and ends up in Edinburgh, Scotland, where fate intervenes. Maya stumbles across a ring in an antique shop, a ring with a German inscription that somehow “calls” to her. After purchasing the ring, Maya decides to trace the history of it and its owner with the brief seven days before she must return to her university and face the consequences of her absence as well as the investigation of her patient’s death. Fearing she will no longer be allowed to continue in her medical career and dreading the meeting where she’ll learn her fate, she wants to make the most of her search for the ring’s previous owner, especially after she begins to have strange dreams and memory-like episodes of the woman she thinks owned the ring. Enlisting the help of Pauline, her French friend, she traces an odd, twisting path through Paris then Bern, Switzerland. The more she discovers, the more she begins to question her destiny.

With its alternating narration, this novel shows two women worlds (and times) apart but with so many similarities. Maya Radelis, the modern American medical student, is shown in parallel with Rebecca Miller, a Swiss medical student in the years leading up to World War I, and though the obstacles for Rebecca are vastly different than for Maya, their feelings of uncertainty and their love of medicine are very much the same. Rebecca’s desire to become a doctor comes from a family heritage of medicine and, in some part, from the death of her brother, Karl. Maya is also following a family legacy while hoping to somehow erase the guilt she feels for the childhood death of her twin sister, Ella. Both of these accomplished women have this need to “[e]arn [their] right to be alive” and somehow validate their own existence through medicine. Both women share a Jewish ancestry, and neither woman sees the need to marry, desiring instead their independence, a world they have built instead of one handed to them through family ties and marriage bonds, while fearing the lonely paths before them. Maya and Rebecca doubt their abilities and often wonder if their sacrifices are truly worth the pain of disappointing others, but both women have strong supporters in the form of their grandmothers with their constant message of self-worth and strength, and though there are so many similarities, the difference in Rebecca’s time is significant. Rebecca must pave the way for modern women with her studies and her determination to be respected as a female doctor. She sees value in women beyond being wives, mothers, or punching bags for husbands and fathers. Rebecca begins a women’s clinic and leaves her home to travel to America. Maya gains strength from Rebecca’s story and learns to stand up for herself and her dreams. She can feel Rebecca’s “resolve and pride,” her “determination,” and leans on these when she cannot find her own strength. 

“Synchronicity,” or “meaningful coincidences” plays an enormously important role in the novel. The reader will enjoy following Maya’s story, the twists and detours that create such an interesting plot as her history and future entwine. Many of these coincidences will seemingly play out through Rebecca’s story as well, and seeing how the author meshes timelines gives the reader those “epiphany” moments when the stories come together from the robin that leads Maya to the antique shop to the letter she finds in a hundred-year-old book. It also will make you wonder just how much we choose for ourselves and how much the universe chooses for us.

Eternal love is the most touching aspect of Maya and Rebecca’s stories. The German inscription Maya finds in Rebecca’s ring says it best with its message of living within the heart of another and being forever “therein.” The love of Rebecca and Mark seemingly transcends time and lives again through Maya and David. It’s a beautiful message, a love strong enough to defy death and reclaim the lovers a century later. There is something reassuring and peaceful in believing love cannot die. What lovers wouldn’t want such a legacy?

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.