Monday, August 20, 2012

Book review: The Map of Lost Memories, by Kim Fay

Kim Fay’s extraordinary first novel has everything great historical adventure fiction should—a strikingly original setting, exhilarating plot twists, and a near-impossible quest. It stands out even more with its one-of-a-kind characters and sensitivity to colonialism’s harsh effects on the local populace, although its gutsy protagonist doesn’t initially share this concern.

In 1925, Irene Blum arrives in Shanghai with a map and a mission: to venture deep into Cambodia to find ten copper scrolls containing the as-yet-unknown history of the vanished Khmer civilization. Upset after losing a museum curatorship to a male colleague, Irene needs the scrolls to fulfill her ambitions in the art world.

On her mentor’s advice, she recruits the help of Simone Merlin, whose linguistic and temple-robbing knowledge is counterbalanced by her drug addiction and abusive, Communist-supporting husband. Others join them, and their quest becomes an odyssey of personal discovery that tests Irene’s physical and psychological endurance.

Every word of this evocative literary expedition feels deliberately chosen, each phrase full of meaning. From the murky Shanghai underworld, in which information is traded like currency, to the isolated Cambodian jungle, whose overheated air is thick with mistrust, Fay brilliantly imagines a singular heroine who forges her own path through unfamiliar country.

The Map of Lost Memories is published tomorrow by Ballantine at $26.00 (hb, 336pp).  In the UK, the publisher is Hodder & Stoughton (£13.99, hb, 336pp).  This is one of three starred reviews I wrote up for Booklist recently, and it appeared in their August issue.  

Coming on Wednesday: An interview with Kim Fay.

12 comments:

  1. Thanks. I'm so furious today at Todd Akin that I needed my mind to be guided into the more calm paths of literature....

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  2. This sounds like exactly the kind of book i love. Must find a copy! :) Thanks for the review. I have many entries of yours to catch up on.. we've been very busy this summer. I look forward to reading them! And i too am SO angry about Todd Akin though i'm not from Missouri. I think he's a ......, well, not exactly sure... :(

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    1. It's been a very good year for me reading-wise, so if you like the same types of things I do, your TBR may expand :) Yes, it's amazing that anyone can make such an inane remark in this day and age.

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  3. This book sounds very interesting. I love a good adventure!

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    1. I love suspenseful, exotic adventure novels, especially ones with female leads. This one qualifies! (Military adventure novels, on the other hand, don't do much for me.)

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  4. Sorry for the deletion. I hate typos.

    It would be helpful you'd include links to eBook version or mention whether they're available. I pretty much only read in that format. :-)

    This sounds really interesting and unusual. I have to take a look at it. Thanks for reviewing it.

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    1. Good suggestion. I'll try to remember that. I'd been figuring that most titles reviewed here had e-versions, but that the price varied depending on the format and venue - which takes a while to look up. But this one is consistent: $12.99 on Kindle and Nook.

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  5. I wish my list of books I really have to get reviewed were shorter because this one sounds great and has such exotic settings. I will stow it away on the TBR. I find both the sophisticated attitude toward colonialism and the entirely mixed up company the main character chooses to bring along with her on her quest very enticing. And who can resist a hunt for copper scrolls containing the lost history of a civilization? You have the knack for finding the best books. It's dangerous to come visiting!

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    1. My editor at Booklist gets credit for this pick. I get sent a few titles a month, and it's always a surprise. This year he's had excellent taste! This is one I would have picked up on my own eventually, but I'm glad I got to read it early.

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  6. This book does sound really good!

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  7. This sounds like quite the interesting novel - and I love the cover. I haven't read a book set in this locale before. Thanks for the review.

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