THE WASHINGTON POST – What could be more tantalizing to bibliophiles than the mystery of a lost manuscript? The fascination that we feel when imagining the discovery of an unknown Shakespeare play or a lost suitcase full of untold stories of Hemingway makes blood flow in us, the bookish ones. No simple buried treasure of duplicate gold can compare. This perhaps explains, in part, the appeal of novels like that of Umberto Eco. The name of the rose (where a lost classic from Aristotle comes into play) or that of Dan Brown The “Da Vinci Code and its suppressed Gnostic heresies.
When the enigmatically absent work of art involves embers of ancient controversies or family skeletons, even better. In this vein, we were treated to Tim Wirkus The infinite future, about a Brazilian science fiction writer whose lost magnum opus sets in motion a group of researchers.
The main lines of Michael Zapata The lost book of Adana Moreau follow Wirkus’ model, but Zapata’s book is quieter and quieter than its more absurd predecessor. Plus, it’s imbued with a fairytale vibe reminiscent of John Crowley, Nicholas Christopher, and Reif Larsen. Overlay the skillfully conjured 20e– and 21stThe settings and events of the century are a feeling of eternity, archetypes and mythical motifs. Our tale opens in 1916 in the Dominican Republic. The nation is overrun by the United States (US) Marines, who quickly kill two married rebels. Their young daughter, Adana (often called the “Dominicana” in a mythological way), survives. Shortly after, she married Titus Moreau, a charming thug who presents himself as “the last pirate of the New World”. They meet in New Orleans and in 1920 have a son named Maxwell.
This simple domestic biography is overtaken by a supreme passion when Adana falls in love with a newly born art form: commercial science fiction. Soon, she is so imbued with crazy musings that she composes an outraged but topical novel: Lost city. In 1929, it was serialized into Strange tales magazine and published as a book. She completes a sequel, A Model Earth, which young Maxwell reads with fascination. But then Adana dies and the new book is seemingly lost forever.
Here I should interrupt my plot summary to comment on Zapata’s obvious love and knowledge for science fiction. He is not a simple hobbyist or a trendy opportunist. He knows the field perfectly and verifies the names of the seminal figures with precision. His knowledge of the history of the genre allows him to brilliantly create and insert other imaginary titles, such as “a novel entitled The seas of eternity written by Thomas Flores, a Mexican-American science fiction writer who died in obscurity in Nevada in 1977 ″. The result is a realistic alternate history of the estate reminiscent of the imagined works of Kilgore Trout by Kurt Vonnegut. The sci-fi aspect is thematically vital and is an integral part of Zapata’s mission, which is to portray how coincidence and multiversal alternatives work in our daily lives.
The second section of the novel takes us to Chicago in 2004. We meet Saul, a young man whose favorite reading is also SF. Young orphan (much like Maxwell, whose father is missing), Saul was raised by his grandfather. Now that the grandfather is dying, he gives Saul one final directive: send a package to a stranger named Maxwell Moreau. When the package is returned as undeliverable, Saul opens it and finds the manuscript of A Model Earth. Bewitched, he decides to find Maxwell – a well-known hidden physicist – and to deliver Adana Moreau’s lost book in person. He enlists the help of a journalist buddy named Javier, a wounded soul “addicted to disaster”.
The novel oscillates between these two pasts, interweaving the saga of Maxwell’s traveling life with the quest for Saul and Javier. Quite naturally, the two tracks will converge in a truly satisfying close that mixes hope and despair.
Zapata’s carefully crafted prose oscillates between concrete and lyrical poetry, a tonal range that provides a very pleasurable reading experience. Between the microcosmic facts are also several more significant incidents that trace the bloody and brutal history of the two centuries, including South American totalitarianism, European pogroms and the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina.
Ultimately, Zapata’s novel is about taking action to create the world you want to inhabit, whether through art or the little vital act of giving a wandering orphan a place to sleep.