The mesmerizing story of a Latin American science fiction writer and the lives her lost manuscript unites decades later in post-Katrina New Orleans
In 1929 in New Orleans, a Dominican immigrant named Adana Moreau writes a science fiction novel titled Lost City. It is a strange and beautiful novel, set in a near future where a sixteen-year-old Dominican girl, not all that unlike Adana herself, searches for a golden eternal city believed to exist somewhere on a parallel Earth. Lost City earns a modest but enthusiastic readership, and Adana begins a sequel. Then she falls gravely ill. Just before she dies, she and her son, Maxwell, destroy the only copy of the manuscript.
Decades later in Chicago, Saul Drower is cleaning out his dead grandfather’s home when he discovers a mysterious package containing a manuscript titled A Model Earth, written by none other than Adana Moreau.
Who was Adana Moreau? How did Saul’s grandfather, a Jewish immigrant born on a steamship to parents fleeing the aftershocks of the Russian Revolution, come across this unpublished, lost manuscript? Where is Adana Moreau’s mysterious son, Maxwell, a theoretical physicist, and why did Saul’s grandfather send him the manuscript as his final act in life? With the help of his friend Javier, Saul tracks down an address for Maxwell in New Orleans, which is caught at that moment in the grip of Hurricane Katrina. Unable to reach Maxwell, Saul and Javier head south through the heartland of America toward that storm-ravaged city in search of answers.
Blending the high-stakes mystery of The Shadow of the Wind, the science fiction echoes of Exit West, and the lyrical signatures of Bolaño and Márquez, Michael Zapata’s debut shines a breathtaking new light on the experiences of displacement and exile that define our nation. The Lost Book of Adana Moreau is a brilliantly layered masterpiece that announces the arrival of a bold new literary talent.
Michael Zapata is a founding editor of MAKE Literary Magazine and the author of the novel The Lost Book of Adana Moreau, winner of the 2020 Chicago Review of Books Award for Fiction, finalist for the 2020 Heartland Booksellers Award in Fiction, and a Best Book of the Year for NPR, the A.V. Club, Los Angeles Public Library, and BookPage, among others. He is the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Award for Fiction and the City of Chicago DCASE Individual Artist Program Award. He is on the core faculty of StoryStudio Chicago and the MFA faculty of Northwestern University. As a public-school educator, he taught literature and writing in high schools servicing drop out students. He currently lives in Chicago with his family.
Quirky. A book about books and twisting paths of life and whatnot. A journey panoramic enough to give one just a teensy bit of agoraphobia (or maybe timephobia?).
Q: At night, she slept on park benches and dreamed of future civilizations and an endless seabed full of strange luminescent creatures. (c) Q: She listened as he talked about war and mechanical soldiers and an eternal library that he would one day discover and never leave. (c) Q: Maxwell’s mother, who had started reading the letters of Rousseau, mentioned to her husband that maybe the world would be better if it adapted to the whims of children rather than the other way around. If streets, she said, followed the patterns and logic of children then there would never be such a thing as getting lost, there would be a certain madness, yes, but it would be a lovely madness, one capable of multiple dimensions. (c) Q: “We are surrounded by dead light, mijo, by the past,” he said, “but a very useful past. My great-grandfather followed that same starlight to freedom. If the instruments on my boat ever failed me, I could still use that dead light to make my way back home. That is the first lesson learned by every pirate.” (c) Q: Then the old pirate announced that after Maxwell’s father retired or died, piracy in the New World was all over. He had post offices and electricity to look forward to. It was the end of an era and that was that. (c) Q: “For thousands of years,” the old pirate said, “we’ve been praying to a brainless watery nothing.” (c) Q: Maxwell got the impression that the old pirate was a madman and he imagined that his words were a map to a dying, insane planet. (c) Q: ... I met a famous Japanese poet who had syphilis. It was said that he hadn’t left his house in twenty years, which begs the question, how had he gotten syphilis in the first place? Not leaving your home for years and years is a different type of disease, I think. This proves that poets generally suffer from multiple diseases. (c) Q: While she couldn’t be certain why she enjoyed these writers, she thought it might have something to do with the sorts of people who came from empires—people who suffered from a sense of unreality. But through unreality, the Dominicana thought, they understood at least one important thing: that people could be other people, cities could be other cities, and worlds could be other worlds. (c) Q: At night, sleeping under the fiery stars, the Dominicana dreams of sea monsters and mechanical soldiers and an endless library, but during the day she thinks only of the survival of the people on her ship. (c) Q: When he worked too early or too late he felt like a sleepwalker or a zombie. The 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. shift suited him well. (c) Q: During occasional insomniac nights as a teenager, Saul would browse through those books and he still remembered some of the names of their authors: Garcilaso de la Vega, Fernand Braudel, John Henrik Clarke, Studs Terkel, William T. Vollmann, Dorothy Porter Wesley, John Hope Franklin, Charlotte J. Erickson, Eduardo Galeano, and Howard Zinn. (c) Q: Although seemingly erratic in subject and nature, it could be said that these ten books constituted one single enterprise and belief, which was that history and truth had nothing to do with each other. (c) Q: ... everybody who leaves eventually returns, in some form or another. (c) Q: Javier had pined for possibility in the cracks and basements and alleys and rooftops and, yes, clouds of that invisible city, and it was this notion more than anything else that had helped Saul, an interstellar exile from Israel, form a connection between his solitary life and the world. (c) Q: There was a bizarre mid-fall storm, and through the diner windows the city looked like something out of a Samuel Delany novel, which is to say a dark rainy streak, an amalgamation, a feral puzzle. (c) Q:
This is one of the most stunningly imaginative books I have ever read. I could just sink into the worlds within worlds that Zapata creates: worlds of brothers-in-arms, extended families, beckoning landscapes, and marvellous books so magical-sounding that one feels the very pull to distant shores that lures so many of his characters. I won't give away any of the plot, because the level of creativity here should be experienced fully fresh, from the mesmerizing first chapter ("The Dominicana May 1916-August 1930") through the final pages that tie together the hopes and dreams of a century's worth of living. Zapata is the heir to Robertson Davies, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Michael Ondaatje, and I was truly privileged to receive an advance copy of this book.
The Lost Book Of Adana Moreau had potential, in the beginning, I was certain it was going to be right up my alley. For a little while, the writing had that magical Latin American atmosphere, a la Garcia-Marquez or Isabella Allende.
Zapata tried to do too many things, went on too many tangents, covered too much ground in too few pages. The omniscient third-person narration, the jumping around in time and space and too much telling without enough showing kept me at a distance and disengaged.
The books mentioned by Zapata were mostly sci-fi, majority of them unknown to me as I don't read the genre, but not the reason for not loving this novel.
Displacement, longing for lost parents, searching for knowledge, revolutions, natural disasters are some of the themes of this novel. There's also a quest to find the physicist Maxwell Moreau, Adana's Moreau son, who seemed to have disappeared. Unfortunately, there's never enough to sink your teeth into and the ending itself was unsatisfactory.
I'm sorry to say, this was the novel that could but didn't. In saying all that, there were enough sparkling paragraphs, so I'm going to give Zapata another chance to impress me.
I had the honor and privilege of reading the Lost Book Adana Moreau by Michael Zapata. I’m an avid reader but horrible reviewer. I either like a book or I don’t. I recommend it to others or I don’t. Sometime a book is good right up to a bad ending and I’m left shaking my head, rolling my eyes. Other times I’m so engrossed in a book but wondering how is this ever going to pan out. Well, the Lost Book of Adana Moreau did not disappoint. It was different from anything I’ve read recently in tone and story. It forced me think about it a lot, to follow the thread. The language was compelling at times lyrical and I liked the story within the story, the historical facts, the switching back/forth in years and how everything came together in the end. I know this sounds corny, but it was a ‘tight” fit. It was a good read. I’m definitely going to buy this book when it comes out in February to have my own copy to reread and put on my shelf.
What reader would fail to be enticed by a book whose theme is the irresistible enticement of books? For Michael Zapata’s expansive, big-hearted, and time-hopping debut novel The Lost Book of Adana Moreau is about many things, but its overarching subject is the sensation one sometimes gets as a reader that one has “stumbled upon the presence of something extraordinary” (67).
The Adana Moreau of the title hails from the Dominincan Republic, a country she is forced to leave in 1916 after invading Americans murder her parents. She ends up in New Orleans, married to “The Last Pirate of the New World,” and there they raise their son, Maxwell, as she writes a gorgeous and weird science fiction novel called The Lost City. On the heels of that book’s modest success, she writes a sequel called A Model Earth, the only copy of which she chooses to destroy just before she dies in a cholera epidemic on the eve of the Great Depression.
Or does she? When the manuscript turns up in Chicago in the early 21st century, protagonist Saul Drower finds himself charged with the fulfillment of his grandfather Benjamin’s dying wish: that the book be returned to Maxwell Moreau. The quest takes Saul and his journalist friend, Javier, to New Orleans in the ghastly aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The dispersing forces of exile and displacement recur throughout, but so too do the binding powers of friendship and love. If life is, as one minor character thinks, “marked by random and often meaningless events” (37) then Zapata’s book is an eloquent argument that stories let humans shape what happens to and around them into significant patterns.
Full of stories with in stories, Zapata builds his layers with a light touch so that the found documents—like a newspaper story from 1999 about “a group of elderly women in Chile who had spent the better part of two and a half decades combing the Atcama Desert for the preserved remains and bone fragments of their husbands and children ‘disappeared’ by the brutal Pinochet regime” (98)—do not impede but rather enhance the flow and add to the texture.
Politically engaged, the book is deeply critical of betrayals and injustices of all kinds and in all parts of the globe, reckoning unsparingly with humanity’s hard-wired propensity both to destroy and to self-destruct. As Maxwell Moreau thinks when he’s a boy, trying to make sense of the sorrows and violence that have already marked his young existence: “On one hand, the past was starlight. On the other, there was no such thing as the Incas, the Mongols, the Romans, or the British. Only variations of the same bloodthirsty assholes repeated through time” (115).
Remarkably, Zapata’s tone is frequently gently or even absurdly comic and his sensibility is one of great love for human beings and for life itself. This seeming contradiction operates as the central tension that animates the entire novel, the source of the “unusual and acute joy” (108) that the book preserves “in the face of idleness and horror” (108).
Plenty of writers have responded to our current political moment with depictions of various dystopian near-futures, but Zapata’s stroke of brilliance is to set his book in the dystopian near-past. By portraying such recent apocalypses as the Argentine Financial Crisis of 2001, for instance, Zapata offers the insight that the world is not merely going to end, but already has ended countless times and is perpetually ending all of the time, especially if you’re not rich, not white, not powerful (but also even if you are). “The past devours the future” (158) a newspaper editor in Argentina puts it. The concept of parallel Earths—multiverses with multifarious storylines—recurs throughout, and that’s where the book derives its well-earned underlying sense of hope: the thought that no matter how remote and unlikely, there are always other possibilities and opportunities, choices that could be made that don’t have to be bad.
Saul’s grandfather, Benjamin Drower, says that “Every telling of an event is a portrait of the teller and not the event itself” (90). The events Zapata recounts here deliver an indelible portrait of a jubilant and generous story-teller—one from whom readers should look eagerly forward to hearing more.
Oh, it is the hard one to write about sincerely. It is not a bad book probably. But! If i would be a curious American 10-grader somewhere at the beginning of my reading about the world, I might like it. But I am not unfortunately. I do not need a Borges diluted into 0.001% solution and a Bolano dumbed down significantly low and deprived of the poetic language. Also I know the mantra extremely popular in the English speaking fiction that "we need to tell ourselves stories in order to live" and "in order to empathise". This has created a sub-genre a-la 1001 Night of fitting as many stories into a plot as one could to create something like an overstuffed muffin. Sometimes in works. But quite often it is very much the same stories repeated in a slightly different guise everywhere. Like I know about:
Many words interpretation and Hugh Everette; Who is Erwin Schrödinger and his cat Paranal Observatory in the Atacama Desert About the Argentinian Dark period of the Disappeared; About Russian Revolution (very dubious little story here); About Zapatistas About Jews from Vitebsk (at least to know that Alinochka is a diminutive name from Alina and never used constantly in a conversation with strangers) 1001 night Indian philosophy of Vaiśeṣika Sūtra and Kanada About HP Lovecroft, Delany, Borges, the list to be continued
Well, to be honest I do not possess a profound deep knowledge of any of these subjects. But i know much more than mentioned here and I do not understand the necessity of mentioning so many. Each of them deserves a separate book at minimum, not a little story imbedded into a not very interesting, tired plot. And I definitely know that Stanislaw Lem is a Polish, not Russian writer. It is like saying that Borges is American.
I was hesitating between 2 and 3 stars as I am probably not the main audience for this novel. But I was keeping reading hoping to find something a bit more profound and I have not found anything apart from boring resolution and the general sense of characters thriving to be good and relatively successfully. This made me frustrated. Thankfully it is at least only over 200 pages. And it was such a marvellous proposition based upon the blurb! Again a note to myself not to read blurbs and to run after the new:-)
I was so lucky to receive an ARC of this book. Few books make me try to find time to sit in a chair and read but Michael Zapata’s “The Lost Book of Adana Moreau” was one of them. A time jumping literary mystery with wonderfully written characters and even a pirate or two. He kept me guessing how they would all connect. It’s such an impressive debut and I can’t wait to read what Zapata writes next. Well done!
When I first picked up this book I thought it was going to be about an adventure where a young man searches for his grandmother's missing book. Surely when it opened up with The Last Black Pirate of the New World and love across parallel universes I thought I knew which direction this book was going. I was captivated by the story line and mesmerized by Zapata's writing. But I was oh so wrong.
This is not just a book about a book. It is not a mere journey for a long lost treasure. The Lost Book of Adana Moreau looks at our response to disaster. Hurricane Katrina. The Russian Revolution. The US Occupation of the Dominican Republic. The Great Depression. Moreover, the book examines displacement from different angles. Displacement of people from a natural disaster. Displacement by imperialism. Displacement through religious persecution. How do nations respond to catastrophe and how does this affect the everyday man.
What Zapata has effectively done here in The Lost Book of Adana Moreau by drawing these men together on this quest is unite exiles across time and space. The exiled are people of different hues, religions, and cultures experiencing the same types of loss, displacement and yearning. Although history has taught us that the victors get to tell the story Zapata reminds us that literature holds "the memories of the memories of the memories." Here in lies the voice of the people.
Special thanks to NetGalley, Hanover Square Press and Michael Zapata for access to this wonderful work.
I realize I should probably just finish this, as I'm already nearly done, but I can already tell that I'm not going to change my mind about how I feel. I'm not going to put a rating on this book, as that won't do justice to my conflicting thoughts. "Objectively" this is probably a very good book. The author has literary talent, is well-spoken and has an almost epic range of topics to contemplate and commentate on here. Subjectively however, I didn't enjoy it at all. I need either one of two things in a novel: an engaging plot or engaging characters. Books that are simply vignets of musings of an author about a certain topic, no matter how much value those musings hold, are just not something I personally enjoy. The Lost Book of Adana Monreau felt too much like that. It meanders through time and space, without much plot ór consistent characters to tie everything together, leaving me with a feeling of disconnect.
Depending on what you're looking for in a book, you will either love it, or feel comletely indifferent like I did. If the blurbs that describe this as "A brilliantly layered masterpiece—an ode to home, storytelling and the possibility of parallel worlds, space and time" are what drew you in: this might just be for you. If you came here for the personal story of a man researching the manuscript of a deceased sci-fi writer: unfortunately, you will probably leave disappointed.
Wow! Just... wow. The Lost Book of Adana Moreau is a complex, satisfying read, gradually building connections among narratives that initially feel disparate. The voice is engaging—a mix of whimsy, tangential thinking, and philosophy. While the entire novel takes place on our Earth, it explores the idea of multiverses, of the ways crucial events might have played out differently, and the ways individual characters might have been shaped differently. Reading this book requires thoughtful attention because the links between the narratives are subtle at times, but it pays back that work with a glorious sent of ideas for readers to continue to mull over when the reading itself is done.
The description of The Lost Book of Adana Moreau piqued my interest despite being outside my usual choice for a novel. But I am so glad I gave it a chance. Totally immersive in style and content and spun out in gorgeous, almost poetic, prose, this is the tale of a manuscript lost for centuries, discovered and resulting in a present day road trip, with characters that breathe. Some of this writing is almost breathtaking ("Memory is a gravitational force. It is constantly attracting us to the past , even if we shouldn't stay there for too long.") Astoundingly polished for a debut. CanNOT wait for what comes.
An immersive book where interwoven narratives connect families, friends, and strangers across space and time.
Its themes of displacement, connection, stories, and family all swirl together beautifully as we are asked to consider the potential for what else might have been. Plus, this is a book that likes books, and you’ll get some new recommendations for your TBR.
I loved this book! It is an ode to classic storytelling and a memorial to the great sci-fi writers. It is a dual timeline story, but it is also a classic story cycle like the Arabian Nights (which the author alludes to many times in the beginning of the book). It is enchanting and peopled with fascinating but realistic characters.
Wow. Just wow. I was given an ARC of this book, and I don’t think I understood just how incredibly lucky I was. This book is phenomenal. It is about so many themes and ideas, but by far it’s most compelling is the power of storytelling. Michael Zapata has written a novel obsessed with stories, and it is full of them. From science fiction stories to war stories, and from the stories that people tell about themselves to the stories that influence their lives. This will undoubtedly resonate with those of us who have consumed stories our whole lives and we still can’t quite figure out why. Also, readers who love science fiction will love this novel, but it is not a science fiction novel. Rather, it is a love letter to a genre that not only has the ability to capture minds, but souls as well.
Debut novel by Michael Zapata dips deep into dreams, perhaps too deep for its own good. Reaching for lyrical prose, Zapata ends up reaching past significance for most readers.
Written entirely in omniscient third person past tense narrative with little quoted dialogue, the coldly remote observer style loses readers as the author moves omnisciently between time, place, and character. The style might have worked in a more controlled or limited application. Here its universal presence left me wanting the author to disappear and let the characters act and speak on their own.
An added distraction to the reader's understanding is Zapata's frequent embedding of stories within stories in that same third person past tense narrative. So the effect is that of the author telling of a character telling a story, often several pages long involving multiple characters, settings, and chronological times, and even third level story telling within the sequence. And because among the themes of the novel are the potential meaning of dreams and of quantum theories of the existence of infinite parallel multiverses, these two and three level stories, told in that passionless remote third person narrative style, fail to rise off the page into the reader's imagination.
Given the reach of Zapata's prose, a plot synopsis is almost beside the point. Adana Moreau is a Dominican immigrant to New Orleans in 1929, wife of the Last Pirate of the New World, and author of a science fiction novel from a small publisher. When she dies just a few years later, her young son is orphaned when his father heads to Chicago to try to find work. In the first decade of the 2000s, to satisfy his grandfather's dying wish a young Jewish man tries to deliver a manuscript which turns out to be the unpublished followup to that 1929 novel to Maxwell Moreau. Moreau is now a retired physics professor who is renowned for his theories of the multiverse which perhaps were inspired by his mother's obscure novel. He has also disappeared with no forwarding address from his university position, and may have been lost in Hurricane Katrina.
But the plot isn't the point. This isn't a mystery or a thriller or a disaster novel; it is more of a literary critique of quantum philosophy in the format of a fictional memoir. If that sounds like a good idea, you might find this worth more stars than I rated it. Zapata has skill as a writer, and he will have chances to harness his powers to better purpose in future outings.
A little bit of sci-fi, a little bit of history, and a lot of love for stories is what makes The Lost Book of Adana Moreau a truly amazing novel. Zapata weaves a tale of intertwining lives, from New Orleans to Argentina to Israel to Russia and back, all centered around the people that brought Adana Moreau’s words to life. The narrative follows Maxwell Moreau, the son of a Dominican refugee and extremely talented science fiction writer in 1930s New Orleans, and Saul Dower, a driftless young man in Chicago in 2004 who suddenly finds himself in possession of said writer’s lost manuscript. As Saul races against a hurricane to deliver the book home, Maxwell struggles to find his father and meaning in a world without his mother. Zapata skillfully bounces back and forth between the stories of these two men and everyone they come in contact with, showcasing a wide variety of refugees and people, without making the narrative overwhelming and confusing. He pays tribute to science fiction and quantum physics by touching on the vast amounts of universes found right in front of us; everyone has a story to tell, everyone is a parallel universe unto themselves, and history is only relative to those that still remember.
This is a beautifully written and crafted mystery, love story, homage to Latinx SFF and history, and a joy to read. Follow the stories of writers, pirates, parents, children, physicists, journalists, and the other rich and complex characters of this novel and learn about the glory of writing from the imagination, the past, and the hoped-for future. In the 1910s, Adana Moreau writes SFF with a decidedly personal twist, calling up her childhood in the Caribbean. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Saul and Javier search for her son, trying to return his mother's last manuscript to him. Zapata's writing about the Caribbean, New Orleans, and Chicago is evocative and gut-wrenching, and his voice--through Adana Moreau--is a beautiful attempt to honor the women of SFF and particularly Latinx SFF who have been neglected.
Could. Not. Put. It. Down. Hooked from the start. I am typically a slow reader taking my time through a book. This book however reeled me right from the start and I couldn’t let go. Had to get to the end, life around me be damned. At the risk of spoilers and giving away the story, I will just say that the characters are well developed and their journeys interesting. The writing was concise and I felt like I was right there in the depression, Chicago and Katrina, New Orleans. The ending pulled the story and characters together and now I’m hoping for a sequel to keep it going.
The Lost Book of Adana Moreau by Michael Zapata is a story in a story in a story of sorts. About two science fiction novels written in the late 1920’s or early 1930’s by a young Dominican woman displaced by American imperialism, married to a Black American pirate disenfranchised by American exclusionism, this book follows the popularity of one book, and the destruction and rebirth of the other up into the time surrounding hurricane Katrina. The book had a lot of overarching themes of political upheaval, governmental terror, racism, lateral violence, grief and loss, friendship across difference, and the unifying voice of stories, but somehow I don’t know if there was much there there. I wasn’t enamoured of the original stories of Adana Moreau, and while I enjoyed the journey of her son and his friend, and later of his friend’s grandson and his friend in turn, I don’t know exactly that the underlying narrative of the journey of this book was really a plotline that served the larger messages the novel contained. I didn’t dislike it, but I found it to be a fantastical tale, written at a frantic pace, about not much of anything, which was a bit beguiling and also a bit of a letdown. Thank you @netgalley for the arc, opinions are my own.
I’ll admit that when I received this book I was only mildly interested. However, since a publisher made the effort to bring it to my attention, I thought I should consider it worth my time to give it some attention. I am so glad I did! An extraordinary and unexpected debut was gifted to me. Layered with subtle complexity, I was quickly pulled in. I was torn between wanting to savor the imaginative story and lyrical writing or reading as quickly as possible to see where I would be taken. The nesting and interlocked stories moved between Maxwell Moreau’s childhood and Saul Drower’s attempt to fulfill his grandfather’s last wish to return a mysterious book manuscript to Moreau. Ultimately, their connection and the story of the manuscript is revealed in the devastated landscape of post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans. Much complexity is packed into this relatively short story about stories complemented with well developed characters in the midst of significant historical moments throughout time and place. It is about destiny and dreams, displacement and connections, immigration and revolution. It is an homage to science fiction writing with exquisite descriptions of stories of multiverses inspiring both characters and readers to also speculate various what ifs that could occur under slightly different circumstances.
Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the ARC.
Zapata has written an ode to stories - storytelling and story-listening. The Lost Book of Adana Moreau is a beautiful novel. It covers some dark events and heavy themes but ultimately feels hopeful and uplifting. Zapata wraps the reader in the comfort of a much-loved childhood memory, while igniting the fires of possibility and potential for the future. It was the (unintentionally) perfect book to start the new year.
A plot summary really can’t capture the greatness of this novel, but here goes: Saul was raised by his grandfather in Chicago. Now a grown man, Saul is living an uninspired life. His grandfather’s dying request is for Saul to send a package to a man in Chile of whom Saul knows nothing. When the package is returned undelivered, Saul takes up the quest to find the mysterious Maxwell Moreau.
Unfolding in dual time periods, the narrative has even more shifts in period and place as the reader hears each character’s story. But the multitude of moving parts works because each story is so engrossing on its own. It’s like a patchwork of short stories woven into a novel. A patchwork that mimics the interconnectedness of Zapata’s characters to create a pleasing symmetry.
Five beautiful stars to The Lost Book of Adana Moreau.
Woke very early and couldn't get back to sleep, instead I finished this remarkable novel. Now I need to decide if I treat it like any other book review, or put it in the newly created Non-SF section of my blog.
This will appeal to SF fans, but the speculative elements are restricted to books written by characters in the book. The novel itself is literary fiction, of the highest order. An incredible debut, highly recommended.
I’m really impressed that Zapata covers so much ground in just 266 pages. No baggy first novel here. The characters felt fully alive, the places it took me to were enticingly varied in time and place. I loved the tantalizing dips into speculative concepts of multiple alternative universes that helped characters cope with loss. I especially liked the fact that it was a lost science fiction novel that opened the door to the speculative in an otherwise realistic story. And yet there were quite a few glaring weaknesses that kept it from being a much better book for me.
Some of the weaknesses were in the writing – the book sometimes felt like a mediocre translation, with an occasional word or simile that seemed flat-out wrong. There were also paragraph-long sentences that cried out for periods. I don’t have a problem with long, rambling sentences, but they need to be used to unspool a complex moment or thought, and include some kind of punctuation for rhythm.
Too often characters delivered long historical information dumps that jarred me out of the story. The tales these characters were telling were great, but it was the wrong method of delivery. The pages saved by condensing these would be better spent fleshing out a big narrative hole, like .
I also wish the author wove Adana Moreau's books more deeply into the story. This would have allowed the 'multiverse' speculations to fit more organically into the narrative.
This is a story about an Science Fiction book, but it is no SF itself. It took me a moment to wire my brain accordingly, but then I let myself be captured by the skillful prose (this is a debut novel! Kudos!) and the often heartwrenching melancholic tale about people who are exiled, displaced. Zapata tells of war and persecution as he weaves his narration about two young orphaned men in two times: One is the son of a Dominican SF-writer and the last pirat of the New World, the other born in Israel lost his parents to the war. Their stories intertwine through the manuscript of a long-lost Science Fiction book and through people they meet on their way.
It is a story about stories, each individual, each with recurring themes, each about the search for a place to belong to.
The tale of the SF book has in itself nothing to do with the plot, yet it creates an underlying feeling of 'un-realness' that enhances the impact of the narration. Perhaps New Orleans is a city ship after all?
If the reader lets oneself in for the multilayered narration about the ties that bind this book provides a soulsearching journey both beautiful and devastating written by a promising new author.