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Monday, September 17, 2012

The Map of the Sky by Félix J. Palma

As I write more reviews, I realize that my favorite books are the devastating ones. The Map of the Sky by Félix J. Palma is devastating almost from the first page. So many times hope raises its meek head only to be struck down by ineffable powerlessness. I don't read sci-fi or horror, and some of the scenes are so terrifying that I sometimes wondered what I was doing reading this thing. Answer: I was compelled. The book addicted me completely and -- I'm not sure if it's because of the length or in spite of it -- I never wanted it to end. In this book the reader witnesses the complete genocide of earthlings, and yet the universe is full of awe, so that, like Emma, I want to look at this "map" and savor its imagination.

The plot itself is a virtuosic piece of mapping out a story. I could never tell exactly where it was going (and I just love that), but in the end the pieces fit together so well I thought I must have been distracted not to see that that was how it was going to turn out. I haven't read the first book, The Map of Time (but I will now, as soon as I can), but the references to the events of the first book were easily understandable in terms of plot.

Criticism? Perhaps one could say the female characters aren't well developed, but if you think about it, the males aren't that developed, either. Rather, the characters represent different concepts, as witnessed by a couple of different characters commenting on the "roles" they and their companions play during these crucial events. The represent things like love, the ability to dream, hope, strength, and also their corresponding opposites as well as the human capacity for redemption. The ending especially proved that the author knows real love. Some readers (those who haven't really loved) will probably find that the end rings a bit false, but it resonated strongly with me. Tied up in the philosophizing about love is something I've never seen before, which is a logical conclusion about what time travel would mean to the traveler, and that was simultaneously a delicious mental exercise and another devastating emotional experience.

It's clear that Palma and his able translator Nick Caistor love books from the Victorian period. The language is very much of this time, which some readers might find boring or impenetrable. I thought I would be one of those readers, but I wasn't. I couldn't resist a book in which H. G. Wells has the opportunity to speak with Edgar Allan Poe or Charles Dickens or -- well, I won't say any more, so as not to spoil it. This was one of those books my husband was astounded to see me read, and possibly more astounded as I told him about all the incredible occurrences and exciting ideas in it. If you're like me, you'll want to be in a discussion group for this one.

I take comfort knowing that in some alternate universe, I translated this book for the English-speaking market, and in another, I wrote the original version.