Genre: Literary Fiction
My Rating: 4 stars
Book Description from Shelfari
A man arrives at an insane asylum in contemporary Spain claiming to be the legendary navigator Christopher Columbus. Who he really is, and the events that led him to break with reality, lie at the center of this novel. Found in the treacherous Strait of Gibraltar, the mysterious man who calls himself Columbus appears to be just another delirious mental patient, until he begins to tell the “true” story of how he famously obtained three ships from Spanish royalty. It’s Nurse Consuela who listens to these fantastical tales of adventure and romance and tries desperately to make sense of why this seemingly intelligent man has been locked up, and why no one has come to visit. As splintered fragments of the man beneath the facade reveal a charming yet guarded individual, Nurse Consuela can’t avoid the inappropriate longings she begins to feel. Something terrible caused his break with reality, and she can only listen and wait as Columbus spins his tale to the very end.
The closest analogy I can come up with to describe this book is watching a photograph develop in a darkroom. At first, you see nothing but a few shades of gray here and there. Then the borders come into focus. Then the full picture begins to fill in … becoming clearer and clearer until you are looking at the fully formed photograph.
In this book, the “photograph” being developed is the man claiming to be Christopher Columbus. Of course, since it is 2004, we know he isn’t the real Christopher Columbus. But who is he and why is he claiming to be Columbus? We join Nurse Consuela in listening to Columbus’s fanciful and detailed accounts of his adventures. Yet his tales are filled with anachronisms that bring into focus, little by little, who this man really is in the present day and what happened to cause his break with reality.
Trofimuk does a brilliant job in creating the atmosphere and rhythm of Columbus’s stories. You know how you read books and you can just visualize everything that is happening as if you are watching a movie? I felt like this throughout this book, and I’m not even sure how Trofimuk pulled this off. When I was reading, I just felt very present in the story, as if I was there watching it happen. So when Columbus is telling one his tales of his explorations and suddenly a cell phone rings in his story, it is jarring as if you were watching a movie set in the Middle Ages and suddenly a car drove by in the background.
I think this is the brilliance of the book. Like Nurse Consuela, you begin to fall in love a little bit with Columbus and his outsized personality and adventures. So when you are shockingly and repeatedly reminded that he is NOT Columbus and instead a man who has had a break with reality, you are jerked back into the real world. And as the book moves ever closer to revealing the man behind Columbus and why he took on this persona, you begin to mourn the loss of Columbus, just as Nurse Consuela must deal with her feelings of losing her patient as he begins to heal.
This was a beautifully written book that works its way under your skin. At its heart, this is a story of love, loss, grief, heartbreak, loneliness and how our minds cope with these emotions. It is a book meant to be read slowly and savored, and I suspect it will leave its mark on you like it did me. If you like literary fiction with a melancholy bent, this book is a must read.
The Whys and Wheres
I read this book because I read so many glowing reviews (most notably from Jill at Fizzy Thoughts and Rebecca at The Book Lady’s Blog) about it that I felt like I HAD to read this book. And so I did … on my Kindle. Which is bad for you because it means no giveaway.
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