Amelia Macreary, a clever pretty upstanding girl from a working class family in Glasgow, is determined to improve her state in life. She uses her intelligence and a hitherto unrealized talent for languages to parlay her job as a secretary for a whiskey company in Glasgow into a transfer to the company’s Buenos Aires office. On the sea voyage, she meets two people who prove influential in the upcoming months: flirtatious diplomat Etienne de Lerin on his way to his new post at the French Embassy in Buenos Aires and Sir Anthony Slowden, owner of a vast estancia (ranch) in the Pampa region of Argentina.
Not surprisingly, Amelia spends more time with Etienne on the voyage, as he is closer to her age, but Sir Anthony remains a part of her life as he is part of the British expatriate community in Argentina. Amelia’s boss in the Buenos Aires office takes her under his wing, and his family takes her to their bosom; Etienne’s feelings for Amelia deepen into love and he proposes to her, but she feels somehow that this is not the right match for her, preferring instead to remain at her job. She enjoys her job and Buenos Aires enormously but things slide when the boss dies suddenly. At this point, Sir Anthony steps back into a more central position in her life, offering her a job as his secretary cum accountant, to work with the estancia manager.
Despite the misgivings of acquaintances, she accepts the position, as Buenos Aires has lost its luster with the death of her boss and her refusal of Etienne. This proves a good match in more ways than one: he ends up proposing marriage to her. This is a more convoluted potential relationship than that she might have had with Etienne, however, as Sir Anthony has a dark past: some decades earlier, his hotheaded wife ran off with a German, taking their son with her…and there is considerable question in Sir Anthony’s mind whether the boy was his child or that of the German with whom his wife eloped. While he does love Amelia sufficiently to wish to join in holy matrimony with her, there is a distinct element of continued revenge against the wife and son. If Sir Anthony marries Amelia, she inherits half his estate upon his death, which is imminent, thus reducing the amount the erstwhile son may inherit. Amelia marries him anyway. Snowdon dies shortly thereafter.
Once the estate is settled, it proves not as large as Snowdon believed, as he’d squandered his resources, but the residual amount is large enough that Amelia need not work. Nevertheless, she feels that she has somehow wronged this boy (now a grown man older than she, if he still lives) and proceeds to track him down in Germany. This is a somewhat difficult proposition as with the rise of Hitler and his followers to power, the country is considerably disrupted. She does find the son’s last known residence and travels there only to find that he has died fighting Hitler, leaving a son of his own, who is Amelia’s age. They come to feel great affection for one another, as Amelia explains the family’s past to this grandson of her deceased husband…and the book ends as the two marry one another.
Written in 1962 and set in the 1930s, this isn’t a bad book. While it’s true fifty years on that the book’s underlying assumption–a bright girl such as Amelia could hope for no better job than secretary–is sexist to say the least…it was true at the time! Indeed, Amelia didn’t do too badly for herself, and, no gold digger she, she remained on close terms with her family throughout the novel. It’s a light swift read, with little characterization and a plot that doesn’t hold up to much analysis, but a pleasant diversion for those of us who like the writing style of the ’40s and ’50s and don’t mind a bit of post colonial cultural appropriation.