In 10 stories, this collection examines the perils of love and what it means to live during an era when people will offer themselves, almost unthinkingly, to strangers. Risks and repercussions are never fully weighed; people leap and almost always land on rocky ground; romances and self-doubt flourish, as does, in most cases, serious regret.
Peter Carey's hero and heroine, Catherine and Henry, are separated by 150 years. What brings them together is an enormous, 19th-century mechanical duck. Catherine, a horologist, or clock expert, is restoring it in the present day. It's a distraction from the sudden death of her married lover. More than a century earlier, Henry commissions the duck as a giant toy for his beloved but very sick child. As the two narratives unfold, the duck becomes a swan, and many of its inner workings are revealed. That's not exactly true, however, for the difficult, mysterious characters who populate the book.
Amina Mazid is 24 when she moves from Bangladesh to Rochester, N.Y., for love. She has wooed — and been wooed by — George Stillman online. For Amina, George offers a chance at a new life for her and her parents, as well as a different kind of happiness than she might find back home. For George, Amina is a woman who doesn't play games. But each of them is hiding something — someone from the past they thought they could leave behind. It is only when Amina returns to Bangladesh that she and George find out if their secrets will tear them apart, or if they can build a future together.