Monday, September 24, 2012

Books of a Lifetime by Kim Fay, The Map of Lost Memories

I love novelists, and I devour information about them the way many others follow celebrities. I want to know their methods, their madnesses, their inspirations. I am awed when I discover that one of my favorites read Great Expectations at the age of twelve, or that another credits teenage years spent reading Willa Cather with shaping her literary career. I am also fascinated because my experience was very different. So different that I bemoaned my devoid-of-literary-notables adolescence to a friend, when asking her who I should mention if ever questioned about it.

“Lie,” my friend told me.

I have considered it. It’s not that I didn’t read as a child. In fact, I read voraciously from the moment I could hold a book, and I loved all the usual suspects: Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Carolyn Keene. Like every budding writer, I was mad about Jo March. And my passion for Betty Cavanna ran so deep that I actually absorbed her writing into my own without realizing it until my sister gave me a vintage copy of Cavanna’s Mystery of the Emerald Buddha last year, to celebrate my novel being accepted for publication. In this book there is a dinner party conversation about the ethics of taking artifacts from the Angkor Wat temples out of Cambodia. As I reread this section, I was astonished, since that exact issue plays a crucial role in my historical adventure novel, The Map of Lost Memories.

As I left grade school, I was on the path to becoming one of those teenagers who discovers Virginia Woolf and George Eliot and Ayn Rand and so on. Instead, I took a turn and found myself in the land of teen romances, which led me into the land of Harlequin romances, where I was drawn not to the love stories but to the exotic locales: Hong Kong, Greece and Paris first came alive for me on the pages of romance novels, which were the only books I read for years, with one exception.

In the seventh grade I somehow got my hands on a copy of Gone with the Wind. I don’t remember if I bought it myself or if someone gave it to me; what I do remember is that I was captivated from the first line: Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. I bolted it down, all 1,024 pages of it, in less than a week, absorbed by the history, Scarlett’s determination, and a romance on an epic scale. When I was done, I immediately flipped it over and started reading it again, and I read it half a dozen more times (at least) before I graduated from high school. It sat by my side as I typed away on my own novels, a faithful companion urging me on. I loved that book so much that when I attended my twenty-year reunion, a former classmate commented on how “Kim used to carry a ratty old copy of Gone with the Wind around with her all the time.”

That ratty old copy happens to still be sitting on my bookshelf, held together (just barely) with layers of tape.

As I entered college and took advanced English courses, studying writers ranging from Henry James to Joan Didion, the romances drifted out of my life. And once I started working at The Elliott Bay Bookstore in Seattle, I entered a whole new realm of reading: Margaret Drabble, Anita Brookner, Muriel Spark, John Updike, Vladimir Nabokov, Katherine Anne Porter, Laurie Colwin … the list truly is endless, for there were times when I was reading a book a day. In the five years I worked at that indie bookstore, Michael Ondaatje taught me the poetry to be found in prose, Penelope Lively taught me how to layer a plot, and Graham Greene taught me the art of literary suspense. But as for my beloved Margaret Mitchell, she taught me the greatest thing of all: how to tell a story and keep a reader turning the page.

Born in Seattle and raised throughout Washington State, I lived in Vietnam for four years and still travel to Southeast Asia frequently. A former independent bookseller, I am the author of the historical novel The Map of Lost Memories and Communion: A Culinary Journey Through Vietnam, winner of the World Gourmand Cookbook Awards’ Best Asian Cuisine Book in the United States. I am also the creator/editor of the To Asia With Love guidebook series. I now live in Los Angeles. I am represented by Alexandra Machinist of Janklow & Nesbit.

Suspense and secrets are woven together in this engrossing fiction debut by Kim Fay.The Map of Lost Memories takes readers on a daring expedition to a remote land, where the search for an elusive treasure becomes a journey into the darkest recesses of the mind and heart.
In 1925, the international treasure-hunting scene is a man’s world, and no woman knows this better than Irene Blum, who is passed over for the coveted curator position at Seattle’s renowned Brooke Museum. But she is not ready to accept defeat. Skilled at acquiring priceless, often illicitly trafficked artifacts, Irene is given a rare map believed to lead to a set of copper scrolls that chronicle the lost history of Cambodia’s ancient Khmer civilization. Such a find would not only restore her reputation, it would be the greatest archaeological discovery of the century.
As Irene travels from Seattle to Shanghai to the Cambodian jungles, she will encounter several equally determined companions, including a communist temple robber and a dashing nightclub owner with a complicated past. As she and her fellow adventurers sweep across borders and make startling discoveries, their quest becomes increasingly dangerous. Everyone who comes to this part of the world “has something to hide,” Irene is told—and she learns just how true this is. What she and her accomplices bring to light will do more than change history. It will ultimately solve the mysteries of their own lives.


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