Amy Harmon‘s What the Wind Knows gently fluttered into my awareness last year when I saw it featured in some bookish email newsletters. But while the title and cover caught my eye, the summary catapulted it to the top of my to-buy list. There are three reasons…
First: It’s set in Ireland, and I have Irish ancestors on both parts of my family. My sister currently lives in Ireland, has taken some classes on Irish history, and even speaks a fair bit of Irish Gaelic; I’d originally wanted to get this book for her to read. I selfishly decided I should read it first.
Second: One of the main characters is named Thomas Smith. A common name, to be sure, but also the name of the frontman of one of my favorite bands, Editors. While he’s English and in a modern alternative rock band, the Thomas Smith here is Irish and a doctor… and living in the 1920s.
Third: What the Wind Knows follows a woman as she falls back in time, stuck in the past and forced to blend in with her new/old contemporaries. The basic plot reminds me of one of my favorite novels of the last few years, The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer. Sure, that was set in 1300s Italy and What the Wind Knows takes us to 1920s Ireland… but the comparison, however slight, is still there.
Enough of my random, personal, nerdy reasons for picking up the book. What was it about? How did I like it?
What the Wind Knows starts with Anne Gallagher, a 30-year-old woman whose beloved grandfather, Eoin, has just died. She has no other living family, and her successful novelist career can wait as she travels back to Eoin’s homeland, Ireland. He’s requested that his ashes be spread on the lake where he grew up.
But while Anne is on that lake, she suddenly slips back in time, landing in 1921 with an unexpected gun wound. Luckily, a doctor – Thomas Smith – is the one to find her, and she ends up staying in his home while she heals. But Thomas is also the legal guardian of Eoin Gallagher… Anne’s grandfather. Eoin is just five now, and his father is long dead, and his mother has been missing for just as long.
Anne looks uncannily like Eoin’s mother, also named Anne Gallagher – so much so that everyone thinks she is his mother. No one would believe the truth – that she’s actually from 2001 and accidentally time-travelled there – so she tries to pretend she is her own great-grandmother. But trying to be someone you know little about is difficult, and it’s not long before some people start to wonder about her.
There’s also a love story in here, as Anne and Thomas start to get to know each other better and reveal their truths. It’s a sweet one, and a pairing I enjoyed spending time with.
In addition to the complicated family matters and blossoming romance, What the Wind Knows also offers a wealth of historical context. Amy Harmon incorporates numerous historical figures present during this pivotal time in Ireland’s history, Michael Collins being the most prominent. Readers get frequent doses of the events happening during 1921 and 1922 in particular, following the tensions between Ireland and England and amongst a divided Irish people. The Irish Republican Army (IRA), treaties between the countries, the brink of civil war – it’s all here.
After returning from Ireland, where I visited my sister, I was excited to read What the Wind Knows. I had high hopes for the book and looked forward to learning about Ireland and getting a sweet love story. Now, I will admit, the first couple of chapters felt a bit weak. Anne’s early reaction to Thomas Smith’s photograph seemed more obvious than necessary, and some extra backstory didn’t quite pull me in. Luckily, it got much better very quickly.
From Chapter 3 onwards, What the Wind Knows had me transfixed. I loved each chapter more as I read. It unfolds delicately and allowed the setting and characters to grow more vivid and more meaningful across the pages. We see the world mostly through Anne’s eyes, but we also get glimpses into Thomas’s perspective through his journal entries ending each chapter. Between the two of them, readers get a balanced and fairly complete view of what’s going on – the mysteries and dangers lurking in the shadows, the unsteady alliances, the secretive past and the all-too-clear future.
What the Wind Knows is a rich and well-paced book that perfectly blends historical fiction with a dash of fantasy and a healthy serving of the various types of relationships people cultivate. It highlights not just romantic love, but also love for family, love for friends, and love for one’s country.
Amy Harmon’s What the Wind Knows is a beautiful story and one I’ll definitely revisit often. But first I’ll let my sister read it.
Bonus: I couldn’t resist including a song by Editors, the band featuring frontman Thomas Smith. Here’s a song that’s about as close to relating to Dr. Thomas Smith as I could think of – enjoy!