The Geographer's Library

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9781594200380: The Geographer's Library

Nine hundred years after a twelfth-century Sicilian cat burglar steals artifacts that possess the secret to eternal life and scatters them throughout the world, a young Connecticut reporter finds evidence that someone is collecting the artifacts again, a story that is complicated by the murder investigation of a local professor. A first novel. 100,000 first printing.

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Review:

The literary history suspense novel has long been a genre appreciated by a small subset of general readers. It is currently enjoying a new vogue and a wider readership with the publication of such novels as The Da Vinci Code, The Rule of Four, and Codex. What these books have in common, and what The Geographer's Library can also claim, is a set of characters in the here and now grappling with questions about things that went on a very long time ago. Another characteristic is the unearthing or explanation of objects of great value. The trick is to weave these two realities together in a compelling way, one that will keep the reader involved in both stories.

Jon Fasman has taken a big chance with The Geographer's Library, his debut novel, setting out a complicated scenario in which a collection of priceless objects is stolen from the titular library and, eventually, scattered and re-collected a thousand years later--with very bad results for the final collector. The geographer is a real person, Al-Idrisi, a Spanish-Muslim philosopher, cartographer, linguist, and scholar who served in the court of King Roger of Sicily in Palermo in the year 1154. For the most part, Fasman's risk pays off, although there is a lot of meandering before we finally get to the final revelation.

The "wraparound" story is about a young journalist, Paul Tomm, who sets out to write a simple obituary about a professor who died in his office at Paul's Alma Mater. The man is Jaan Puhapaev, an Estonian perhaps, who is a terrible teacher, fires his gun out his office window twice, is odd, unavailable, and reclusive and yet is allowed to stay on for unknown reasons. He also collects only $1.00 a year in salary and has no other visible means of support. The core narrative is a description of the provenance and travels of each of the 15 objects--some or all of which may hold the secret of eternal life--stolen from Al-Idrisi.

A professor friend of Paul's, a policemen and a curious editor all get an investigation rolling regarding what really happened to Jaan, who is he, and is he perhaps much, much older than they think? Paul meets and falls for a neighbor and putative friend of Jaan's, a music teacher named Hannah Rowe, which moves the information curve upward. This is the least believable part of the story: it's easier to accept the alchemical power of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes than Hannah. That said, Fasman does bring it all home at the end with an expository chapter and two letters. A bit of a cheat, but at least the reader is neatly taken off the literary hook he has dangled on for 380 pages. --Valerie Ryan

From the Back Cover:

"A brainy noir . . . [a] winningly cryptic tale . . . a cabinet of wonders written by a novelist whose surname and sensibility fit comfortably on the shelf between Umberto Eco and John Fowles."
Los Angeles Times

"One of the year’s most literate and absorbing entertainments."
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Book Description East Rutherford, New Jersey, U.S.A.: Penguin USA, East Rutherford, New Jersey, U.S.A., 2005. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: New. 373 Pages. Book 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. 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. 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. Bookseller Inventory # ABE-1103670957

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Book Description Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: New. 1st Edition.... New York: Penguin [2005]. First edition. First printing. Hardbound. New, a pristine unread copy. Very fine/very fine in all respects. SIGNED BY AUTHOR on title page. Comes with mylar dust jacket protector. 0.0. Signed by Author(s). Bookseller Inventory # goldy16

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