First published in 1982, Jeffrey Archer’s The Prodigal Daughter is one of the many paperback novels that I recently inherited from my aunt. It’s 485 pages long but, as I discovered earlier this week, it’s a quick read. I got through it in a day and a half.
It tells the story of Floratyna Rosnovski, the daughter of Abel Rosnovski, a Polish immigrant who worked his way up from poverty and now owns a chain of luxury hotels. Abel is enemies with William Kane, a WASP banker from a wealthy family. Why are Kane and Abel enemies? Well, it probably has something to do with the fact that they have ironic names. Obviously, if your name is Abel, you’re going to mistrust anyone named Kane. Beyond that, The Prodigal Daughter is a sequel to an earlier Archer novel called Kane and Abel. I assume that Kane and Abel goes into more detail about the rivalry between the two men but all that really needs to be known, as far as The Prodigal Daughter is concerned, is that they hate each other.
Unfortunately for Abel, Floratyna grows up to fall in love with Richard Kane, the son of William. Rejected by her father, Floratyna marries Richard and together, they make their own fortune by opening up a chain of stores. Along the way, Floratyna is approached by a childhood friend named Edward. Edward, who is obviously in love with Floratyna, recruits her to run for the U.S. House of Representatives. At first, Floratyna struggles in Washington but soon, she wins the respect of her colleauges and learns to stop being such a leftist. Eventually, she becomes a Senator and starts to look towards the White House. But will a personal tragedy keep Floratyna from becoming the first woman to serve as President?
Reading The Prodigal Daughter, I found myself thinking about how Floratyna Kane lived an almost ludicrously charmed life. Yes, there were some conflicts. When she was a child, a group of her classmates made fun of her for being Polish. She dated one jerk before she ended up with Richard. Her wealthy father hates her husband but he still secretly helps them set up their chain of stores. She deals with one great tragedy but she recovers from it after seeing a group of homeless veterans and realizing that at least she has a place to live. Floratyna is a frustratingly passive character. Her friend Edward finds her a safe congressional district to run in and essentially guides her political career. Her subsequent success as a politician is largely the result of luck and coincidence. The book even ends on a note of deus ex machina. The book’s seems to suggest that the best way for a woman to become president is to passively wait for it to happen. That’s not particularly empowering.
The Prodigal Daughter was written by Jeffrey Archer, a best-selling British author who was also a member of Parliament and who has a reputation for being a bit of a shady and disreputable character. Archer’s prose is simple and rarely sings but, at times, his straight-forward approach to storytelling does pay off. It makes for a quick read. If nothing else, the book would seem to indicate that, early in his writing career, Archer understood that people with money are more fun to read about than people without.