I am not usually the type of person who reads books that are described as “ripped from the headlines.” I try not to watch the news on tv too much, but, if I don’t keep up with the papers, a novel like this is totally lost on me. So, when I received this book from NetGalley, I knew that it was loosely based on the Amanda Knox case. I was surprised to realize, however, that this case is still in progress — that it has been tried, appealed, etc. since the murder took place in 2007, and continues in court today.
Cartwheel takes place in Buenos Aires, with, of course a new set of characters and settings, though I do think it follows a very similar path to the original story. Since I didn’t follow the original trial that closely the first time, I tried not to over-research it now, thinking, correctly, that it would spoil the outcome of this novel. (Sorry, no Wikipedia if you want any surprises.)
Ironically, though this is sort of a mystery-crime drama, there is a lot more time spent on developing characters than anything else. The subject matter wasn’t a huge draw for me, but the author’s writing was truly exceptional. I found myself interested in, and caring for, a wide range of lovable and unsavory people. As a parent, I found this story especially chilling. The small details remind me how naïve and unthinking our tiny, throw-away remarks can be seen in a foreign country. We think we are so helpful sending our college students to poorer countries to offer any sort of assistance, without truly preparing them for the cultural differences they will encounter.
The author tells us early on about the origin of the book’s title, and this concept added an eerie element to everything that followed. There is a level of uncertainty that overlays this story, that reminds us that you never really know the entire truth in a given situation. I would say the author, with tremendous skill, kept me reading late into the night — not because I would have otherwise cared about the characters (as evidenced by my lack of knowledge about Amana Knox), but because she crafted a story that contained all of the drama and humanity that the original story lacked.