Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Review - Waiting For Columbus by Thomas Trofimuk

Summary (from Goodreads): On a beautiful April morning, a man is brought to an insane asylum in contemporary Spain, claiming to be the legendary navigator Christopher Columbus. Found in the treacherous Straight of Gibraltar, he is clearly delusional and has suffered a trauma so severe that he has turned away from reality. As he spins the tall tales of adventure and romance of someone who existed in the late fifteenth century, the lonely Nurse Consuela can’t help but be enchanted by his spirit. Who is Columbus? Where did he come from? This dazzling story about one man’s painstaking search for truth and loyalty will haunt the reader long after the final page.

Modern-day Spain is beautifully blended with the 1400s Spain, as the man who calls himself Christopher Columbus tells nurse Consuela his stories. A chapter might start with a scene in the institution (playing chess or talking to another inmate who believes herself to be the pope), and in the next scene, we’re in Spain in era of the Inquisition and the push for finding a new route to Marco Polo’s Indies, hearing about the lovers Columbus had, the attempts to convince Spain’s royalty to back his explorations.

Nurse Consuela is intrigued by Columbus… Who wouldn’t be? A masterful storyteller reminiscing on the days (in recent past, according to him) of struggling against the perception that the world is flat (though Columbus is quick to call anyone who still thinks that an idiot). Still, it is a challenging feat to get the queen and king of Spain to buy into Columbus’s obsession with learning what would happen if you sail West. The question is not whether or not the world is flat, but how big the world is. Could a ship can survive long enough to make it to the other side?

My one gripe with the story (and it’s a small one) is that the book switches point of views a lot. The three main perspectives were Consuela, Columbus and Emile (an Interpol investigator looking for a missing person). Even in Columbus’s stories to Consuela, though, we might find ourselves switching--mid-scene--to seeing the story from inside the head of Queen Isabella, perhaps, or his friend Benito. While each of these perspectives were interesting, I found myself needing to pay more careful attention than I was used to, rereading passages when I missed a POV switch.

There is a love for the written word in this tale. The characters have discussions of philosophy, religion and poetry. This is not a plot-heavy story. Most of it is told through the flashbacks (as Columbus is telling Consuela). Peeking through the story of Christopher Columbus is perhaps a real man hidden behind the historical figure. He wears a wedding band. His stories contain elements that don’t belong in the 1400s. He wants to call the queen on the telephone. How much of his stories are real? Why does this man think he is Christopher Columbus?

This was memorable story with a satisfying conclusion.

Lit Snit Verdict: A-

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