Introspective characters dealing with a series of storms create a sense of community in this intriguing novella.
In Sighs from the Sea, Elena G. Baht explores how tied we are to the world around us through the metaphor of a small island community. The book’s straightforward writing and almost mystical dialogue transport the reader to a strange land with even stranger inhabitants.
The story follows several people of varying age on the island of Ellworh, which is cryptically described as being “part of the Americas near where the Pacific Ocean is divided from the Atlantic Ocean.” This tiny island, where everyone knows each other, is ravaged by recurring storms that have left deep psychological scars on the residents. They wander around discussing the possibility of the next storm, and wrestling with their relationship to the sea. This is clearest, ironically, in a rant by Nat, the town drunk: “We’re all attracted to the sea, and in a sense, we’re all afraid of it because of its freedom to let its moods free and because of its immensity and intensity.” Everyone has lost someone to the sea, and the characters spend time contemplating their lives and their losses.
Although it’s clear that the characters are introspective and haunted by demons, a lack of deep development of their personalities leaves them feeling flat. Indeed, one is known simply as “the girl,” although the other residents seem to know her. Without a clearer understanding of their motivations and connection with one another, it is difficult to empathize with them or understand their obsessions. Some characters go missing and others are lost at sea, but the emotional impact feels a step removed because of the sparse background knowledge.
Despite some confusion on its central thesis, the text is well written and oddly engaging. The tone captures a timelessness reminiscent of a fairy tale, while potent metaphors seem ready to jump out at each turn. Whether they hit home will vary from reader to reader, but the world Baht has crafted is magical from any angle.
It is often unclear for whom the story is intended and what they are meant to get from reading it. At times, it is written like a parable, discussing broad concepts such as loss and humanity’s interaction with nature: “‘Where is the ocean coming from?’ the girl asked Jack…‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘It was there before everything.’” At other times the book feels like young adult fiction, with characters providing interesting but simplistic reflections on their world.
This lack of clear direction causes Sighs from the Sea to miss its mark; it is too general to keep attention on the characters and their problems, yet its focus is too localized to express a strong moral message or bring forth a lingering metaphysical reflection. However, it will appeal to those enjoying a quiet afternoon and looking for a light read that stimulates the imagination.
Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The publisher of this book provided free copies of the book and paid a small fee to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. Foreword Reviews and Clarion Reviews make no guarantee that the publisher will receive a positive review. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.