Friday, August 15, 2014

Everything Under the Sky by Matilde Asensi

One of the good aspects of book groups is that it forces the members to read outside of their comfort zones. This is especially true of me when reading of the Far East or Asian countries. I think it is because I don't have a real grasp of the history - there's just too much of it. Everything Under the Sky started as a novel that seemed it would be the memoir of a middle-aged woman dealing with the consequences of the death of her estranged husband. Was I ever wrong.

Told in the first person by Elvira DePoulain, we find a very seasick narrator making her way from Paris to China to settle the estate of her late husband, Remy´. Although they had lived apart for nearly 20 years, they were on good terms and as such she was responsible for his estate when he died suddenly in Shanghai. Accompanied by her niece Fernanda, she makes the journey only to find out upon arrival that he was very much in debt due to his opium habit and the predilection for many women and that his death was really a murder by the Green Gang who were looking for a decorative box that contained clues to a wealth of hidden treasure. Clued in by Lao Jiang, the antiquarian, and Paddy Tichborne, an Irish journalist, Elvira finds the box that poses more puzzles than provides wealth. 

Lao Jiang explains that the clues are to the the whereabouts of the tomb and wealth of the first emperor of China. In order to find the tomb before the Green Gang, it would be necessary to commence on the journey as quickly as possible. Knowing that she had no money to pay of her late husband's death, Elvira agrees to the strenuous and dangerous quest with Fernanda, Biao (an orphaned servant boy), the group sets off on the trek. What ensues is a series of adventures, dangers, and puzzles that seem so crafted for an Indian Jones or Laura Croft movie. Mysteries and conundrums present themselves at every stage of the journey and the solving of them is critical, not only to the discovery of the treasures, but also for the preservation of their lives. 

The adventure and mystery are only one side of the novel. Throughout the course of its telling, Asensi weaves the history and culture of China. The dropping of names of emperors and dynasties was enough to confuse the novice reader. I wish there had been a timeline or chart. What was more interesting, at least to me, was the elucidation of the concepts of Feng Shui and the Tao. Fascinating explanations of how the world is designed and how our environment should follow that were quite interesting. 

Everything Under the Sky was an ok read. The adventure and problem solving were most exciting, but I was weighed down by the Chinese history and pronunciations. The ending was predictable except for one or two twists and was tied up neatly. Not at the top of my favorites, but not a bad read, either.

No comments: