A Trip to the Stars

ISBN 10: 0385318049 / ISBN 13: 9780385318044
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Synopsis: At a Manhattan planetarium in 1965, a boy is kidnapped from his young adoptive aunt, an event that profoundly alters the rest of their lives.  In an epic tale of love and destiny, A Trip to the Stars charts their paths over the next fifteen years, as they search for each other and in the process, discover themselves.

When ten-year-old Loren is whisked away by strangers, he believes he has been mistaken for another child.  But his abductor turns out to be a blood relative--his great-uncle Junius Samax, a wealthy former gambler who lives in a converted Las Vegas hotel, surrounded by a priceless collection of art and antiquities, and a host of idiosyncratic guests, each in search of the lost treasures of the universe.  Finding his own place in Samax's magical world, Loren pieces together the story of his mother, and the complicated history that led to his adoption shortly before she died.

But in New York, Loren's  aunt, Mala, knows only that he has disappeared.  Distraught after her year-long search for him proves fruitless, she quits college and enlists in the Navy Nursing Corps at the height of the Vietnam War. On a hospital ship in the South Pacific, her grief over Loren is subsumed by her love for a wounded navigator.  Yet just as she opens her heart, he too vanishes--pronounced missing in action on his next mission.  Devastated again, Mala begins a restless ten-year journey, moving from island to island around the globe, hoping to overcome the losses that have transformed her life.

Fusing imagination, scholarship, and suspense with remarkable narrative skill, Nicholas Christopher builds a story of tremendous scope as he traces the intricate latticework of Mala and Loren's lives. Each remains separate from the other, but both are tied in ways they cannot imagine--until the final, miraculous chapter of this extraordinary novel comes to an end.
But Alma knows only that Loren has disappeared. After a full year spent searching for him in vain, distraught and confused, she joins the Navy and is sent to Vietnam. While serving on a hospital ship she falls in love with a wounded navigator--who recovers only to go missing in action on his next mission. Devastated, Alma begins a peripatetic, restless existence, moving from island to island in the South Pacific, hoping to overcome the loss that has pervaded her life.

With remarkable narrative skill, Nicholas Christopher builds an intricate latticework of Alma and Loren's lives over the next fifteen years. Each remains separate from the other, but both are tied in ways they cannot imagine--until the final, miraculous chapter of this extraordinary novel comes to an end. -->

Review: A Trip to the Stars opens with a kidnapping at a New York planetarium in 1965 and ends exactly 15 years later at a Hawaiian observatory. In the 500 intervening and absurdly readable pages, its two narrators undergo equal parts heartache and discovery--not to mention a fine excess of things astronomical. As Nicholas Christopher's exhilarating third novel begins, 10-year-old Loren reaches for his aunt Alma's hand while the crowd surges around them. Alas, he's in for the first of many jolts:

The woman, who was pulling me hard now to a blue sedan idling at the curb, was not my aunt. Until she opened the rear door and pushed me in, I thought she must have mistaken me for another child. Then, before stepping in after me, she looked me full in the face and betrayed no surprise.
Already twice orphaned, Loren is spirited away from the young woman he considers his only relative and finds himself in a strange building on the edge of the Mojave Desert. Inhabited by "people looking for lost things" and, as he later realizes, "people who had once been lost--like me," the Hotel Canopus is the life work of his uncle, the collector and pomologist Junius Samax. (Let it be known that A Trip to the Stars features the most fanciful monikers this side of Howard Norman's novels.) Now restored to his real name, Enzo, and assured that his aunt has been informed of his fate, the boy is given the sort of home schooling only Nicholas Christopher could dream up--the usual academic suspects enhanced by ancient languages, Zuni wisdom, mnemonics, and, of course, astronomy. (In this novel of multiple stargazers, even Enzo's wolf dog, Sirius, has a head for the heavens.) Meanwhile, Alma, having failed to find her nephew, attempts to rid herself of her past: she changes her name to Mala and, following the most compelling spider bite in all fiction, joins the Navy Nursing Corps and heads for Vietnam.

As the author alternates between Enzo and Mala's very separate universes, he packs his book with suspense and arcana. Echoes and parallels prevail, as do demons and eccentrics. The Hotel Canopus is filled with exotic individuals, including an eight-fingered pianist-arachnologist, an art historian in hot pursuit of Adam's navel, and women named Desirée, Della, Dolores, Denise, and Dalia. But it also houses a resentful relative or two. A Trip to the Stars is so grounded that all its magic, coincidence, and mystery seem hyper-real, from a girl who becomes a vampire to Mala's lover, a soldier whose shrapnel wounds mirror the Andromeda galaxy. Despite the intricacy of his novel, Nicholas Christopher has wisely declined to preface it with a family tree or a list of dramatis personae. For this we can be grateful, since much of the book's pleasure comes from watching him weave destinies, miracles, and more than a few blood feuds as he proffers the ultimate celestial fix. --Kerry Fried

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Title: A Trip to the Stars
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