Friday, June 14, 2013

Review: Travels in Elysium by William Azuski

When someone tells you nothing is as it seems, believe them. They are telling you the truth.

Nicholas Pedrosa comes to Santorini on an archaeological dig, his first dig fresh out of university. Greece is under the control of dictators, the Colonels, but Santorini and the work done there is far from their control -- or so the archaeologists believe. Marcus Huxley is leading the dig and has surrounded himself with a group of like-minded individuals, emotional and spiritual orphans, following Huxley's lead from Sais to Santorini to find the answer to Plato's Conundrum.

Did Atlantis exist and has Huxley found it on Santorini? Only time will tell and Nico Pedrosa tells the story from his point of view. There could be a different reason for Huxley's disregard for archaeological protocol and his race to find the reason behind the empty homes found on one of the hills.

A volcano exploded in antiquity and the homes emerged from the pumice and ash in pristine shape. The paintings on the walls were as fresh as the day they were painted. Kitchens were neatly arranged with pots and pans stowed away. There were no signs that anyone lived in the homes during the eruption. Why were they empty? Where were the bones and the ash entombed bodies? Where were the people?

Nothing is as it seems.

The search for Atlantis is at the center of every culture and time since Plato's Dialogue with Critias.  At the heart of Travels in Elysium it is Plato's Conundrum that is at the center of the story.  Why did Plato end the dialogue in the middle of the sentence? William Azuski offers a running debate on that very question throughout his book.

While the story is off like a rocket at the beginning, it slows down to a crawl like a snail frozen in its slime trail at the middle and continues on, picking up again at the last third of the book and rushing to its conclusion. It helps to keep in mind that nothing about Travels in Elysium is what it seems just as it is also true of Marcus Huxley and the search for Atlantis, except that Huxley is not searching for Atlantis. He has another prize in mind.

What Azuski does very well is create a compelling premise, peopled with memorable characters (living and dead), and sets forth his own dialogue as a philosophical treatise disguised as an adventure. Travels in Elysium is as frustrating as it is rewarding and, despite the need to go haring off after White Lighters -- people who were clinically dead and returned to life -- everything has its place in the story. It is, however, easier to understand Huxley's obsession with finding his truth than to find the key that unlocks Azuski's fantasy until the final page.

Azuski's writing is steeped in philosophy, embroidered with metaphor, and suffers from middle of the book doldrums. Travels in Elysium is surprising and engaging -- and very frustrating at points -- but well worth the read.

Keep one thing in mind: Nothing -- and no one -- is what it seems.

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