A thief steals some valuable and portable items from the library of the famed 12th century geographer (cartographer, linguist, scholar, alchemist etc. etc. and so on) Al-Idrisi. Forced to flee the country (since he is seen stealing from the king’s favourite geographer), the thief is forced to leave all but one items with the captain of the ship on which he hides. The items thus spread across the (then known) world are later collected by a Russian colonel in 1960s, with a lot of bloodshed and intrigue involved in retrieving every piece.But The Geographer’s Library by Jon Fasman is more a story of how a young man just out of college finds love, if not his “purpose” (or goal) in the course of his job, rather than about the quest to unite priceless alchemical treasures strewn over the world from a geographer’s library.
A young reporter (at least, he is working as reporter for time being after graduating from college), Paul Tomm is given a pretty simple assignment: to write an obituary of a history professor, Jaan Puhapaev, from his alma mater. Unfortunately, the professor, apart from being an immigrant, hides (literally) a deadly secret which makes the assignment pretty tough. While learning about the known history of the reclusive man, the reporter finds out that the professor, apart from being a horrible teacher, was twice reprimanded for firing a gun on premises, frequented a “private” bar where outsiders are not exactly welcome (and the proprietor may be connected to international gang of smugglers), and had converted his office into a virtual stronghold, all the while living in his “adopted” country on a salary of $1 per year.
Paul meets the only contact the reclusive man is supposed to have with normal world, his neighbour called Hannah Rowe, and while interviewing her, falls in love with her. There is also a mysterious stranger (supposed to be Jaan’s brother) moving around. Meanwhile, with the help of his professor (and a policeman nephew of the professor), Paul also starts finding out more about the life of the the odd Prof. Jaan, the mystery of his “death” becoming more and more obscure with days, which leads to an unexpected climax where everything and everybody about Paul Tomm is in danger.
The book uses a “cut-scene” method. So, after initial detailing of the theft, in each “part” we see a the description of one piece (including its history, where it was last seen and its powers) out of twelve while the Russian is trying to retrieve that piece at any cost in 1960s, and Paul is continuing his quest for the seemingly unending quest for the obituary and his love story in present time.
The plot covers a whole lot of ground, and jumping between the scenes can become a bit complex sometimes, making the book drag in bits. But all is fair for a good climax, and the books does provide us with one of the better ones. Of course, history buffs would love the descriptions and history of the 12 pieces of alchemical power, and the mystery buffs would like a nice murder mystery with a clues spanning almost a millennium.
But, at the end of the day, for me the book is memorable because in today’s world of disillusioned, sarcastic and morose book heroes, Paul Tomm, although being a little lost and aimless in life (not to mention clumsy), is the most human, maintaining his humour despite drifting in life, not knowing where he is going to go in life and failing in love. A character most of the young people would (or rather, should) easily connect with.
Thus, the début novel of Jon Fasman scores a solid 2.75 on Book(?)…err Scale, while placing the author on “To Look Forward To” list.
Quote of The Day:
Answering Austell’s questions was like walking between huge, teetering stacks of books: the slightest mishap and he’d bury you beneath cascading mounds of words.
– Paul Tomm