Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Geographer's Library, by Jon Fasman

I listened to this novel on my hour-long commutes by bus, and although I enjoyed it enormously, I struggled to keep my bearings. The book has an audaciously complex plot structure moving back and forth between 12th-century Italy, 20th-century Soviet Union, and present-day Connecticut. As I was moving between locations on a bus, pausing at the bus stop rather than at a chapter's end, it made for a disjointed experience.

The story's narrator is Paul Tomm, a young reporter for a small-town newspaper in rural Connecticut. He goes out to gather some biographical information for an obituary -- an elderly, reclusive former professor at Paul's alma mater has been found dead in his home. The police say it looks like a death from natural causes, but in his search for the most basic details for the obituary, Paul discovers only very puzzling and incongruous bits of information about the deceased.

In a parallel plot thread, Fasman traces the 15 items which had been stolen from the court geographer's home in the 12th century and have been scattered around the globe since then. Now it appears someone is trying to collect them all again, and as Paul delves into the mysteries surrounding the dead Estonian professor, he repeatedly finds connections to the highly-coveted objects from the geographer's library, all of which relate to alchemy. Paul's knowledge of alchemy is limited to arcane efforts to turn lead into gold. Professor Puhapaev knew its broader meaning -- the transformation of any thing into its most perfect form, and for humans, that perfection means immortality.

The plot represents a broad spectrum of knowledge and research, and Fasman has a deft style. I regret that I sometimes lost my bearings in the audio, and much as I like Scott Brick as a reader, his attempts at Russian accents aren't always successful. I should have read this one in print.

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