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The Geographer's Libraryby Jon Fasman
"[A] wonderfully cluttered debut novel....The Geographer's Library (as its title suggests) travels to far-flung locations, and its minor characters can be found in Sicily or Latvia, consorting with KGB men or retired Chinese gangsters. Fasman has in fact worked as a journalist in far-flung locations, yet the world of his novel reads strange and varied, like a place wildly imagined (as the title also might suggest) rather than documented." Anna Godbersen, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)
Synopses & Reviews
In this brilliant debut, competing visions of an obscure professor's life take a young reporter from a sleepy New England town to the heart of an international smuggling ring that may hold the secret to eternal life.
DESCRIPTION: Item 1: An alembic is the top part of an apparatus used for distilling. This one is made of sturdy green glass, thirty-six centimeters tall, eighteen centimeters around at the widest point of its base. The top part of the vessel is narrow and fluted and turns sharply to the right; alembics are set over a still to collect and carry vapors to another vessel. The vessel's inside bears a crust of gray material that seems to be a mixture of lead, iron, and antimony, as well as some organic matter, canine and human bones. Scorch marks are visible on the outside bottom, extending five centimeters up. No discernible odor.
Date of manufacture: unknown. Estimates range from 100 b.c. to a.d. 300 Place of origin: Hellenistic Egypt. "Alembic" comes from the Arabic "al-anbiq," which comes from the Greek "ambix," meaning cup or beaker Last known owner: Woldemar Löwendahl, Danish-Estonian governor general of Tallinn.
The alembic was unearthed during the construction of Kassari chapel on Kassari Island in April 1723 and brought to Löwendahl's office that June. The governor general placed it on the top shelf of an unfilled bookcase in the back corner of his office and never noticed when it went missing two years, six months, and seventeen days later...
When a twelfth-century Sicilian cat burglar snatches a sack of artifacts from the king's geographer's library, the tools and talismans of transmutation — and eternal life — are soon scattered all over the world. Nine hundred years later, a young Connecticut reporter finds evidence that someone is collecting them again.
In the process of investigating the suspicious death of a local professor, Paul Tomm finds the dead man's heavily fortified office stuffed with books on alchemy. The Geographer's Library entwines his contemporary reporting with a chain of ancient stories-within-the-story, tracking the last time each of the geographer's tools changed hands — some bought, some stolen, some killed for.
The Geographer's Library is an extraordinary debut, smart, stylishly written, and full of suspense. It tempts with the glitter of antiquities and hooks with a chilling plot.
"A young reporter is caught up in a deadly centuries-long treasure hunt in this puppyish but brainy debut, a thriller steeped in arcane lore and exotic history. When Paul Tomm, a reporter for the Lincoln Carrier, a small Connecticut newspaper, looks into the demise of Jaan Phapev, an elderly academic found dead in his cluttered house, nothing seems out of the ordinary — until the pathologist performing the autopsy is himself killed in a freak car accident. Various locals and acquaintances offer reminiscences of the late professor that suggest Phapev was an extremely complicated (and perhaps dangerous) character. Tomm's discoveries lead him to a lovely young woman, a network of international smugglers and hidden alchemical libraries. Appealing more to the intellect than to the emotions, the book is slowed by the catalogue-like descriptions of precious objects that close many chapters, while the protagonist, however likable, is often too nave to be entirely credible. Still, some deft plotting and lively writing bode well for the author's future literary endeavors." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Shades of Dan Brown, Edward Whittemore's Jerusalem Quartet, and Milorad Pavic's Dictionary of the Khazars: one of the year's most literate and absorbing entertainments." Kirkus Reviews
"[T]his debut tells a terrific story — it's gripping, intelligent, and beautifully wrought." Library Journal
"Alchemy, Fasman tells us more than once, is the science of transformation. Good fiction aspires to the same lofty goal, and it is achieved in The Geographer's Library, a cabinet of wonders written by a novelist whose surname and sensibility fit comfortably on the shelf between Umberto Eco and John Fowles." Allen Kurzweil, Los Angeles Times
This brilliant debut novel takes a young reporter from his small town paper to the heart of an international smuggling ring, centuries old, that amasses the alchemical artifacts that lead to eternal life.
Jon Fasmanandrsquo;s dizzyingly plotted intellectual thriller suggests a marriage between Dan Brown and Donna Tartt. When reporter Paul Tomm is assigned to investigate the mysterious death of a reclusive academic, he finds himself pursuing leads that date back to the twelfth century and the theft of alchemical instruments from the geographer of the Sicilian court. Now someone is trying to retrieve them. Interspersed with the present action are the stories of the men and women who came to possess those charmedandmdash;and sometimes cursedandmdash;artifacts, which have powers that go well beyond the transmutation of lead into gold. Deftly combining history, magic, suspense, and romanceandmdash;and as handsomely illustrated as an ancient incunabulumandmdash;The Geographerandrsquo;s Library is irresistible.
Jon Fasman’s dizzyingly plotted intellectual thriller suggests a marriage between Dan Brown and Donna Tartt. When reporter Paul Tomm is assigned to investigate the mysterious death of a reclusive academic, he finds himself pursuing leads that date back to the twelfth century and the theft of alchemical instruments from the geographer of the Sicilian court. Now someone is trying to retrieve them. Interspersed with the present action are the stories of the men and women who came to possess those charmed—and sometimes cursed—artifacts, which have powers that go well beyond the transmutation of lead into gold. Deftly combining history, magic, suspense, and romance—and as handsomely illustrated as an ancient incunabulum—The Geographer’s Library is irresistible.
About the Author
Jon Fasman was born in Chicago in 1975 and grew up in Washington, D.C. He was educated at Brown and Oxford universities and has worked as a journalist in Washington, D.C., New York, Oxford, and Moscow. His writing has appeared in The Times Literary Supplement, Slate, Legal Affairs, the Moscow Times, and The Washington Post. He is now a writer and an editor for The Economist's Web site.
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