Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Map of Lost Memories

First time novelist, Kim Fay has written a wonderful book about lost treasures of Cambodian history. Irene Blum is working for the Brooke Museum when she is passed over for the curator's position even though she has built the Indo-Chinese collection up into a world class collection. Irene decides to leave the museum without any plan of what she is going to do.

Meeting with her dying mentor Mr. Simms, a renowned collector, he tells her of a diary he found in her father's papers and the lost treasure of the 10 copper scrolls. The scrolls are supposed to contain all the history of the  Khmer people through their last king. Mythical, no one has ever seen  the scrolls however there are legends about where the scrolls are kept. But the diary contains map references and a partial map of the location.

Irene sets off to Cambodia. Financially backed by Mr. Simms, Irene tries to enlist the aid of Simone Merlin. Simone knows everyone and has been everywhere in the area. She and her husband are actively stirring up the local populations for a revolution to overthrow the French colonists and install a communist government. Simone agrees to help Irene and with the help of other equally colorful characters, the expedition sets off. Everyone in the party wants the scrolls for a different reason.  The longer they trek through the jungle the more everyone becomes wary of the others. The journey helps Irene come to know herself and her parents in ways she never imagined. The end was a surprise (at least to me!) but understandable given the story line.

I loved this book. It is well written (you can feel the sweat in the descriptions of the jungle), the characters are wonderfully drawn, each a very interesting person in their own right. It is set in an interesting time, Cambodia between the world wars, while France still controls most of the area. The characters play off against each other as well as the country and the politics of the time. I heartily recommend this book.

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