Wednesday, January 30, 2013


"The one thing to remember about an adventure is that if it turns out the way you expect it to, it has not been an adventure at all." - THE MAP OF LOST MEMORIES

The adventure begins in Shanghai in 1925. Irene Blum, passed over for her expected promotion to the curatorship of the Brooke Museum in Seattle, has arrived to meet Simone Merlin and recruit her on a mission to recover scrolls that will illuminate the history of the mysterious Khmer. Irene's father had bequeathed a letter proving the existence of the scrolls to Irene's mentor, Mr. Simms, who presents this evidence to Irene when she leaves the museum in fury. Along for the ride are Marc Rafferty, recommended by Mr. Simms, and Simone's recruit, Louis Lafont, a competitor of Irene's. Naturally, everyone has ulterior motives and secrets, which just keeps things interesting. Running underneath the story (and bubbling to the surface) is the colonial attitude of ownership in another country's treasures and questions of a country's right to control its own history.

Fay evokes her settings (Shanghai, Saigon, and, finally, Cambodia) with rich prose:

"Breathing in the scent of fish drifting on a current of lemongrass and star anise, she felt her strength begin to return. And it amazed her that somehow, despite how this part of the world wearied her, it also gave her sustenance--just to stand in the middle of it, sheltered from the midday sun by the flaming petals of a coral tree."

Along with the spices, Irene and Simone breathe in the history and culture of Cambodia, and it is a heady brew. The sense of place and time and culture is well-balanced. The only sour note for me was the relationship between Marc and Irene. He irritated me - much more Kate Capshaw than Karen Allen - and the romance, compared to the mystery and adventure, simply wasn't that interesting. But then, I've never found the love interest component in adventure novels or movies to be the most compelling part; if that's something you enjoy, simply ignore my mild complaint. Adventure, betrayal, mystery, history, culture, and exotic locations - an excellent way to pass the time. I recommend THE MAP OF LOST MEMORIES to anyone who loved Indiana Jones films but wished they had a woman at the center.

Source disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers Program.

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