Photo credit Stephanie Pommez

Praise for Enchanted Islands

“In Enchanted Islands, Allison Amend distills the entire life of Frances Conway—one of, if not the, most fully realized characters I’ve encountered in the last decade—into a captivating narrative less than 300 pages long. It is a nostalgic and yet entirely unsentimental tale told with elegance and gravitas from a distance that is somehow both interior and objective. And, as the best novels do, it raises more questions than it answers: What is the difference between a private life and a secret life? What is duty and to whom is it owed? Who is family? Where is home? You can’t anticipate the outcome. The greatest thing about the book is the entire, brilliant book.”                            

—Jill Alexander Essbaum, New York Times bestselling author of Hausfrau  


“Allison Amend is a wonderful writer—generous and psychologically astute—and Enchanted Islands is both a sweeping epic and a moving exploration of the intricacies of friendship. This is a beautiful novel that will stay with me for a long time.”

—Molly Antopol, author of The UnAmericans


“In this compulsively readable novel, exotic locales and international espionage bend before the greatest intrigue of all: the life of a captivating mind. Young Frances escapes a series of Dickensian snares, only to ensnare herself willingly in the complexities of adult relationships, in which nothing worthwhile is achieved without some risk. Revelations wait around every corner as a lifelong friendship weathers betrayals and a marriage’s secrets yield a hauntingly textured love. Amend exerts exquisite control throughout, deftly weaving in real history and gracing her prose with flourishes that lend the work a symphonic feel. Enchanted Islands is as moving as it is impossible to put down.”

—Matthew Thomas, New York Times-bestselling author of We Are Not Ourselves


“Allison Amend’s dazzling Enchanted Islands is steeped in the wondrous history of the Galapagos and bursting with the magic of pure invention. An elegant stylist and a masterful chronicler of the most hidden and luminous corners of the human experience, Amend is a spectacular talent, and this brilliant novel is the evidence.”

—Laura van den Berg, author of Find Me



Inspired by the mid-century memoirs of Frances Conway, Enchanted Islands is the dazzling story of an independent American woman whose path takes her far from her native Minnesota when she and her husband, an undercover intelligence officer, are sent to the Galápagos Islands on the brink of World War II. 

Born in Duluth, Minnesota in 1882 to immigrant parents, Frances Frankowski covets the life of her best friend Rosalie Mendel, who has everything Fanny could wish for—money, parents who value education, and an effervescent and winning personality. When, at age fifteen, Rosalie decides they should run away to Chicago, Fanny jumps at the chance to escape her unexceptional life. But within a year of living in the city Rosalie commits an unforgiveable betrayal, provoking Frances to strike out on her own.

Decades later, the women reconnect in San Francisco and realize just how widely their lives have diverged. While Rosalie is a housewife and mother, Frances works as a secretary for the Office of Naval Intelligence. It is there she is introduced to Ainslie Conway, an intelligence operator ten years her junior. When it’s arranged for Frances and Ainslie to marry and carry out a mission on the Galápagos Islands, the couple's identities—already hidden from each other—are further buried under their new cover stories. No longer a spinster living a lonely existence, Frances is about to begin the most fascinating and intrigue-filled years of her life. Amidst active volcanoes, inhospitable flora and wildlife, and unfriendly neighbors, Ainslie and Frances carve out a life for themselves. But the secrets they harbor from their enemies and from each other may be their undoing.

Drawing on the rich history of the early 20th century and set against a large, colorful canvas, Enchanted Islands boldly examines the complexity of female friendship, and how those whom history has neglected to record have been shaped by, and in turn helped form, modern America.


News about Enchanted Islands

reviewed in the New York Times

reviewed in Publisher's Weekly

 reviewed in Kirkus

named one of Travel + Leisure’s Best New Books