Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog The Latecomers by Rich Marcello (@marcellor). Beautiful writing, unusual subject, and a challenging read

Hi all:

So many things have happened recently, I don’t know where to start. But first and most important of all, I hope you are all well and keeping safe. We’ll get through this together. I have no doubt.

Sorry for my long silence. After my previous update, you know many of us are confined home. After completing some parts of the course online, finally, the University of Cambridge decided to accept online teaching as a valid way to complete our practice. As I write this, I’ve taught my first online class, and let me tell you it’s been a steep learning curve, but hopefully, we should all be finished right in time for Easter, so I hope to be able to spend more time with you all after that.

And now, I bring you a review.

The Latecomers by Rich Marcello

The Latecomers by Rich Marcello

An aging couple and their closest friends piece together a life-changing plan from an otherworldly text.

Maggie and Charlie Latecomer, at the beginning of the last third of their lives, love each other but are conflicted over what it means to age well in a youth-oriented society. Forced into early retirement and with grown children in distant cities, they’ve settled into a curbed routine, leaving Charlie restless and longing for more.

When the Latecomers and their friends discover a mystical book of indecipherable logographs, the corporeal world and preternatural world intertwine. They set off on a restorative journey to uncover the secrets of the book that pits them against a potent corporate foe in a struggle for the hearts and minds of woman and men the world over.

A treatise on aging, health, wisdom, and love couched in an adventure, The Latecomers will make readers question the nature of deep relationships and the fabric of modern society.

The Latecomers is a profound and philosophical novel about aging and connection, which offers hope and a new vision for how we as a society could age well. Filled with poetry and mysticism, the novel takes the reader on a journey from which he or she will inevitably be changed.

­­––Rebecca Given Rolland, author of The Wreck of Birds

 

I found Rich Marcello’s absolutely outstanding new novel, The Latecomers, gripping, original, thought-provoking, and very clever. I cared deeply about the main characters, and the book kept me guessing, kept me reading compulsively to find out what happened to them.

––Sophie Powell, author of The Mushroom Man

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/LATECOMERS-Rich-Marcello-ebook/dp/B08427HQXJ/

https://www.amazon.com/LATECOMERS-Rich-Marcello-ebook/dp/B08427HQXJ/

https://www.amazon.es/LATECOMERS-Rich-Marcello-ebook/dp/B08427HQXJ/

Author Rich Marcello
Author Rich Marcello

About the author:

Rich is the author of four novels, The Color of Home, The Big Wide Calm, and The Beauty of the Fall, The Latecomers, and the poetry collection, The Long Body That Connects Us All. He also teaches creative writing at Seven Bridges’ Writer Collaborative. Previously, he enjoyed a successful career as a technology executive, managing several multi-billion dollar businesses for Fortune 500 companies.

The Color of Home was published in 2013. Author Myron Rogers says the novel “sings an achingly joyful blues tune, a tune we’ve all sung, but seldom with such poetry and depth.” The Big Wide Calm was published in 2014. The US Review of Books stated, “Marcello’s novel has a lot going for it. Well-written, thought-provoking, and filled with flawed characters, it meets all of the basic requirements of best-of-show in the literary fiction category.” The Beauty of the Fall was published in 2016. The Midwest Review of Books called it “a deftly crafted novel by a master of the storytelling arts” and “a consistently compelling read from cover to cover.” The Long Body That Connects Us All was published in 2018. Publishers Daily said, “Fathers and sons have always shared a powerful and sometimes difficult bond. Rich Marcello, in a marvelous new collection of extraordinary verse, drinks deeply from this well as he channels the thoughts and feelings of every father for his son.”

As anyone who has read Rich’s work can tell you, his books deal with life’s big questions: love, loss, creativity, community, aging, self-discovery. His novels are rich with characters and ideas, crafted by a natural storyteller, with the eye and the ear of a poet. For Rich, writing and art making is about connection, or as he says, about making a difference to a least one other person in the world, something he has clearly achieved many times over, both as an artist, a mentor, and a teacher.

Rich lives in Massachusetts with his family. He is currently working on his fifth and sixth novels, Cenotaphs and In the Seat of the Eddas.

www.richmarcello.com

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=rich+marcello

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7356640.Rich_Marcello

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

I have read and reviewed another novel by Marcello, The Beauty of the Fall (you can read my review here), was entranced by it, and I was eager to read this book, although worried that, at least for me, the previous novel would be a tough act to follow. This book has many of the qualities that made me love the previous one (beautiful language, gorgeous descriptions, a spiritual dimension, a search for personal truth, and many strange and wondrous events that sometimes are difficult to categorize [are they visions, hallucinations, visitations, a transcendental connection with the gods and the elders, enlightenment?], and little interest in following the standard rules of narrative. Yes, there is a beginning, a middle and an end, of sorts, but one sometimes feels as if there were many corridors the characters could choose, which might end up resulting in a variety of futures and of novels, and at times we get hints of those. Somehow, though, it didn’t move me in the same way the previous book did, and that is perhaps down to current circumstances. Reading this novel in the middle of a pandemic, while confined at home, made me feel uneasy about some of the characters’ decisions, their self-absorption, and the ease with which they make decisions that might potentially affect many people, with little regard for anybody else’s interests.

The book is divided into two distinct parts, the first one told, in the first-person, by the two main protagonists, Charlie and Maggie Latecomer, now in their second marriage, seemingly happy, who after successful careers are now pursuing their own artistic interests. Suddenly, despite their deep love for each other, Charlie, who’s been feeling restless, decides he has to go in pursuit of his own path. He tells his wife this and goes on a retreat. Not only that, but he asks a young woman to accompany him. The couple was completely enmeshed in each other, and although Maggie loves the idea of the MOAI, a Japanese concept that they define as a sort of extended family, she acknowledges that she’s resisted including others in theirs. She starts to question everything she had thought, makes new connections and renews some of the old ones, and when the retreat ends in quite a traumatic manner (I ‘ll avoid spoilers), there is a reconfiguration of their MOAI and new people join in. They also go through some life-changing experiences together. This part is more contemplative, more descriptive, and slower than the rest of the book, and I felt somewhat impatient with Charlie, whose behaviour and reasoning I found quite difficult to accept, in light of his protestations of love and of not wanting to hurt Maggie. I liked Maggie much better than Charlie, and although by the end of the book I was more reconciled with Charlie’s character, because he’d gone through quite a lot of change, I still felt more empathy for Maggie, even if I had little in common with any of them or the rest of the characters in the novel (even if I have visited Northampton and enjoyed the descriptions of the town and also of the island and the retreat).  There are more adventures in part two: we have a mystical book that the characters keep trying to decipher, they uncover a secret, they have to fight a big corporation, and they go through much heartache. The rhythm picks up in the second half, and I felt that was partly because we only get to see things from Maggie’s point of view, and she is more determined, action-driven, and even rushed at times.

There are quite a few themes in the novel, including relationships (love, extended families), growing old, health (what does it mean to be healthy and what price would we pay to live longer), pharmaceutical corporations, end of life care, spiritualism, identity, philosophy, religion, mysticism… There is a search for meaning and for finding one’s place in the world that is quite refreshing, especially because the protagonists are not youths trying to decide what to do with the rest of their lives, but older characters, who refuse to be settled and give up (and although I did not connect with some aspects of the book, I definitely connected with that). I do not know much about Nordic mythology and therefore I felt at times that I was missing much of the background that might have allowed me to understand the characters’ experiences better, and that made me feel somewhat detached. The novel is classed as literary fiction and magic realism. Both genres cover a great variety of styles, subjects, and reading experiences, and readers who enjoy philosophical themes and like a challenge should give it a try.

I have mentioned the two main characters, and I have said that there are a few others: three that end up becoming a part of their extended family, two elders (both women), another female character who is the spiritual guide, some of the other people attending the retreat, and the baddie (who is never fully explained). I’m not that far of, by age, from many of the characters, but I can’t say I have much else in common with them, as they are all fairly well off, (one very rich), and in general seem untouched by the worries of everyday life. Although we spend time with some of the other characters, and I particularly like the two elders, I did not feel we got to know the rest of the MOAI well enough, considering the length of the novel and the amount of time we spend with them. Part of the problem might be that it’s all told from the first-person point of view of the two protagonists, but the decisions of Joe, Ebba (she’s a total puzzle to me), and Rebecca (I liked her but I would have liked to know more) don’t always seem to fit in with what we know about them. But an important part of the novel deals with the fact that no matter how we feel about others, and how connected we are, that does not mean we are the same and we have to live by the same rules and share in all of our experiences. We all have to strive to be the best versions of ourselves.

I have mentioned the writing style at the beginning of my review. There are poetry and lyricism, and as I mentioned above, there are also many contemplative passages. This is not a fast book and there are many descriptions of landscapes, mystic experiences, and also philosophical wanderings. The characters have their own rituals and these are described in detail (and yes, there are descriptions of their art, their shared experiences, their memories, their sexual relationships, although not too explicit…), and I think that readers will either connect with the writing style or not. The quality of the writing is not in question, and the fact that Marcello writes poetry is amply evident, but it won’t suit every taste.

The ending resolves the main points of the plot, although not all mysteries are explained, and there are aspects left to readers’ imagination. I liked the ending, although I had been expecting it for quite a while and at some point worried that the characters wouldn’t do what seemed to be “the right thing”. It’s a difficult decision and not one many people would take in real life, but, at least for me, it made sense.

Would I recommend it? You’ve probably noticed that I’m conflicted about this novel. There is much I like about it and some aspects I don’t like as much, although I think I might have felt different if I had read it in other circumstances (and might come back to it later on). In summary, this is a book for those who like to savour a novel and who enjoy thinking deeply and exploring unusual avenues. It is not a book for those looking for a tightly-plotted story, a mystery, or a fast page-turner. There are mysteries, but not those of the kind we expect to read about in novels of the genre. The protagonists are privileged in many ways, older than the norm, and their search and struggles might not connect with everybody. I’d recommend readers to check a sample of the book, and to give the novel time, because it changes and grows in the second half, as do the main characters, Charlie in particular.  Ah, members of reading clubs have a set of very interesting questions at the end, and I agree this is a book that offers plenty of food for discussion.

 

I leave you a great review of this novel by another member of Rosie’s group, as Barb makes very important points and you might find it helpful in making a decision about the book.

https://rosieamber.wordpress.com/2020/03/31/rosies-bookreview-team-rbrt-the-latecomers-by-rich-marcello-marcellor-tuesdaybookblog/

And I loved the teaser of Marcello’s next novel at the end of this one.

Thanks to Rosie and her team, thanks to the author, thanks to all of you for reading, remember to keep safe, read, and keep smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Rosie's Book Review Team Rosie's Book Team Review

#TuesdayBookBlog #Bookreview THE LAST GODS OF INDOCHINE by Samuel Ferrer (@shaolinfez) A beautifully written historical fiction novel about the Khmer Empire exploring fate, colonialism, spirituality and trauma.

Hi all:

Today I bring you a novel whose description drew me in even if the topic was totally unknown. The author was kind enough to send me a sample of his writing so you can get a taster and see what you think…

The Last Gods of Indochine by Samuel Ferrer
The Last Gods of Indochine by Samuel Ferrer

The Last Gods of Indochine by Samuel Ferrer

The Last Gods of Indochine (422 pages, excerpt below) was nominated for the Man Asian Literary Prize (“The Booker of Asia”), making me the only non-Asian to have been nominated for Asia’s most prestigious literary award. It was also designated an “Editors’ Choice” in the current issue of the quarterly magazine, Historical Novels Review.
From the novel’s back-cover summary: “Jacquie Mouhot and Paaku the Lotus-Born are divided by six centuries but linked by a common curse. In medieval Cambodia, Paaku is an orphan whose community believes he may be a reluctant incarnation of a god, causing sectarian turmoil for the kingdom’s leaders. Meanwhile, in 1921, Jacquie follows the footsteps of her grandfather, a famous explorer, to Indochina, where she becomes immersed in the tragedy of Paaku’s history: a story simultaneously unfolding in the intertwined present and past, a story in which she still has a vital role to play.” The protagonist is female and the story includes romance.

Author Samuel Ferrer
Author Samuel Ferrer

Ferrer is a professional double bassist and member of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as the band-leader and songwriter for Hong Kong’s largest original band, Shaolin Fez. He holds degrees from Yale and the University of Southern California, and as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar, spent a year in Paris in between degrees. With the “The Last Gods of Indochine”, Ferrer became the only non-Asian to have ever been nominated for Asia’s most prestigious literary award, The Man Asian Literary Prize (“The Booker of Asia”).

 

Further bio info on the Amazon author page: “Born in California, Samuel Ferrer has lived in South East Asia since 2002, writing The Last Gods of Indochine in the bars of Bangkok, Saigon, Hanoi, the cafes of Laos, in the mountains of Sapa, and on location throughout Cambodia. Inspired by the real life of explorer, Henri Mouhot (1826-1881), this historical fiction novel centers around Mouhot’s fictitious granddaughter and uses excerpts from the journal that made Mouhot famous after his death in the jungles of Laos, published posthumously in 1863.”

https://www.amazon.com/Samuel-Ferrer/e/B01JM9OX70/

 

Here is the publisher’s page for the novel: http://signal8press.com/indochine/

And here is its Amazon page: https://www.amazon.com/Last-Gods-Indochine-Samuel-Ferrer-ebook/dp/B01H6ELZ56/

Novel Sample:

Prologue
“Farther India”, 1861 (Laos, Indochina).

It was hard to believe the human body could contain so much water, and yet, there it all was. Phrai twisted the cloth and watched it plop in dull patters on the ground, the pocked earth sponging up sound as well. Sweat had been seeping out his employer for weeks, and he had been at the dying man’s side all the while, pouring fresh water back into his mouth with the devotion of a nun. Phrai imagined nearly half the man had been absorbed and squeezed from these rags, creating small pools just outside the hut. In another part of the world, that half of him would evaporate out of existence, but here it could not; the thick air held eternity at bay.

Phrai returned and closed the flimsy door after himself. The explorer looked like a rag doll tossed upon a bed. He regained consciousness and requested a mirror; even in dying, he didn’t want to be denied the role of observer. Perhaps he wanted to put that in his book as well. Phrai resisted, thinking it best not to show him the thinly veiled skeleton who would have stared back. Instead, he wiped the fermenting body clean with a soapy rag. There was no dirt to wash off, just the fetid odor.

It was no wonder the white-ghost had succumbed to this condition whilst exploring here. They couldn’t take the heat; they gagged on the thick air. And this white-ghost was no exception. He had worked too hard and traveled too far. He had been away from home too long. Going up one river, he had hastened his young guides to lead him even farther up the next, and after that, yet another. But the jungle was too deep here, in Farther India, and he should have turned back long ago.

The door of the shaky hut popped open and Nion, the other guide, looked in, a bag under his arm. At the grey horizon, lightning flickered quietly, like the tongue of a lizard. Anxiety pulled long-wise on Nion’s face. He grimaced at the sight, approached and sat upon the edge of the bed. The explorer opened his eyes, straining to see. Nion opened the bag and pulled out a small packet.

Monsieur, I’m back from Vientiane,” he said. “I made the trip as fast as I could. We have more quinine now.”

The man’s torso heaved, his eyelids closed again. Nion continued with the hopeless plan, unwrapping a packet and mixing the white powder with a glass of water. The man opened his eyes and watched, tongue peeping out the side of his mouth. As Phrai put his hands under his head and lifted, Nion poured the mixture in. With effort, he swallowed.

“Phrai, Nion,” he said, “my journal and drawings. That’s what’s most important. Get them to… Raymond Schomburgh. The British Consul in Bangkok. Also—the insects and shells.”

“We will. We promise,” Phrai replied, knowing firsthand all the effort put into them. The three went silent, solemn. When Phrai decided it was time to wipe down his body again, for the first time in several weeks the dying man gave a smile. His mouth twitched before he spoke.

“I have seen amazing things.”

“You have, monsieur.”

The words struggled off his tongue: “No one knows. I don’t believe anyone else has seen. How could a civilization so grand—so magnificent—become entirely lost? It must be the greatest the world has ever seen.”

Monsieur,” Phrai said with a sad smile, “the ruins have never been lost. Our people avoid them. And never underestimate the will of the jungle. She simply reclaimed what was always hers.” Phrai thought, She is reclaiming you too.

The curtain of unconsciousness closed back over the explorer’s face. An hour passed before he opened his eyes again, half-mast. Phrai was sitting on a stool, fanning him. Nion had gone outside. Scrunching his brow, the man asked, “Are my children still playing in the forest?”

Phrai reflected, the fan stopping beside the explorer’s face. “No, they are in London, with your wife.”

“London?” he murmured. “All four of them?”

“No, monsieur,” Phrai said. “You only have two small children, a boy and a girl.”

“No, there are four. And what of the monkey-healer? Is he still here?”

The door nudged open and Nion entered. He approached and looked over Phrai’s shoulder.

The explorer asked, “Where did he go?”

“Who?” Nion asked.

“The Lotus-Born. The monkey-healer.”

Phrai whispered to Nion, “He keeps talking about a boy who heals monkeys.”

Groaning, the explorer began rocking from side to side. Phrai tried to pour more water into his mouth, but he turned and it dribbled off his face. Nion sat down on the bed. The man’s eyes, bolted with red, stretched wider.

“Do you see that?” he asked, eyes flitting across the roof.

“No,” answered Nion, not looking up.

“It’s so beautiful. Yet so dangerous to me. The Sea of Milk.”

The explorer’s face suddenly went limp, his chest sank, and wind sighed out of his mouth. Phrai quickly grabbed his flaccid wrist. There was still a pulse. Nion wiped his face off again, begging him not to go to sleep. Eventually, the man’s lips quivered again with life.

From the bottom of his lungs, he gurgled, “I have—I have seen it a number of times now. I have seen him a number of times now. Many lives. Many centuries.”

Phrai and Nion didn’t recognize this ancient voice; it came not from the pipes of his throat, but rather, a place much deeper.

His eyes rolled upwards, leaving two slits of white in their place. Phrai grabbed both of his hands and squeezed. “Don’t go to sleep, monsieur!”

“The Sea of Milk awaits me again. So beautiful to others, but so tragic to me!” he said. “And my poor, poor children—I’m sure I heard them in the forest!”

He lurched onto his side and Nion braced him from falling off the bed where he convulsed and gagged on air. A gurgle from the bottom of his throat rose, popped, and he vomited pure white fluid onto the floor. The puddle had the brackish smell of the sea.

He rolled onto his back, chin now lacquered. Breathing heavily, he looked past the two young men and declared, “He is here!” His eyes widened further, his breathing shortened, and he asked the last questions he would ever ask, directed at that empty space in the room: “Do not consider the suffering of others? What of the two children I still have left?”

 

                                                 1.

Paris, 1921.

The glassy surface of the Seine River flowed with civility, sundering in two at the Ile de la Cité. Like a citadel, tall walls rose from the water to join with its residential part. A quaint reading park, tucked away at the base of the islet where the water parted, contained a small garden and a pair of trees. With their autumn leaves blending, the willow and plane tree held each other like an elderly couple. Golden leaves butterflied between them.

Jacquie couldn’t help but feel she was saying goodbye to autumn as well. This was, after all, a goodbye to most everything familiar to her. Her focus came back to the glass, noticing the ghost of Great Aunt Adèle upon its surface, this woman who was both family and nearly a stranger. She studied Adèle studying her. Holding her bowl of coffee, Adèle’s hands had a slight tremble. Yet again, Jacquie was having to justify her decision.

“I want to feel as if I knew him,” she said to the window, fingers settling on the porcelain cameo at the base of her throat. She knew that would not be enough to satisfy her great aunt, just as it had failed to do with all the others.

 

My review: A beautifully written historical fiction novel about the Khmer Empire exploring fate, colonialism, spirituality and trauma.

Thanks to the author and to Rosie from Rosie’s Book Review Team for offering me the opportunity to review this novel.

I do not know much about Indochine or present day Cambodia, where this story is set, other than vague information gathered from movies, mostly about the war. Recently, I have discovered that reading historical fiction is a great way to learn (or at least wet one’s appetite) about places and historical periods one is not familiar with but feels curious about, in an engaging and entertaining way. This novel is a good example of this, even though the author clarifies at the end that he has taken many liberties with the historical figures and also with the period reflected. (I recommend that readers don’t skip the notes as they are helpful in sorting fancy from fact and also offer up-to-date information on current knowledge about the Khmer Empire and the reasons for its demise).

The story is narrated in the third person and, after an introduction describing the last moments of Henry Mouhot, a French explorer known for ‘discovering’ the lost civilisation of Angkor Wat (that was never lost and had already been known to Westerners, but he popularised with his journals), alternates chapters from the point of view of Jacqueline Mouhot, Henry’s granddaughter and Paaku, the Lotus Born. Jacquie is a fictional character and we meet her in 1921, shortly after WWI. She had helped at a field hospital in the Somme and we realise she is severely traumatised by an incident that took place while she was there. She clearly shows signs of PTSD but we get to learn more details of what happened and how it relates to the story later, although we know it was bad enough for her to be removed from her posting.

Her story is interspersed with that of Paaku the Lotus Born, another fictional character, a young man living in XIIIc Khmer Empire, whose identity and story seem to be the stuff of myths and legend. He does not know his true origin, as he is an orphan brought up by a Vishnu monk, and he seems to have been chosen (although by whom and what for is not immediately evident) and might have special healing powers.

At first, I felt it easier to identify with Jacquie’s story, as her point of view as a woman trying to get by in a man’s world at such a time, and her state of mind were more familiar to me (even if she is not always the most sympathetic of characters, complaining about minor things, like the lack of comfort of some parts of the trip, and she appears quite naïve as to what her experience travelling to Asia might mean). But Paaku’s story is so beautifully told and shares such unique world-views and experiences that it’s impossible not to become enchanted at first, and later increasingly worried as to what his fate might be. The more we read, the more we’re struck by the links and connections between the two characters, and a number of possible explanations are offered during the novel as to why this should be so, although the final twist is not easy to guess (I only realised what might be behind the story very close to the ending but I won’t spoil it). The story is complex and the changes in historical period, language style (fragments of Mouhot’s true diaries are included in the novel as his fictional granddaughter reads them) and character’s point of view demand attention and close reading, but the results are very rewarding. At first, the changes in point of view might be somewhat frustrating if the readers identify more with one of the stories than with the other but the reason for the choice of writing form becomes evident and in the end and it suits the subject perfectly.

The language and descriptions of places, historical and social periods and lifestyles of both eras are poetic and evocative, and despite the third person narrative we get inside the characters’ heads and body and, thanks to the vivid writing style, experience their lives fully with our five senses. The novel explores many themes: mysticism, spiritual questions, colonialism, the different roles of men and women, family legacy, PTSD, fate and destiny, romance and there is much to keep us thinking, while our  brains try to connect the stories at the same time as engaging with the language at a sensual level.

It might be something purely personal, but for me, one of the only things I wasn’t truly convinced about was the love story. Other than being there, having similar interests regarding the story of the area, and being a man and a woman, there seems to be little that connects them other than a romantic subplot in the novel, although it works as a way to humanise Jacquie, make her more vulnerable and it also facilitates the ending.

Both of the stories narrated in this novel are stories of discovery of spiritual truths, fate, friendship, love, the price to pay for one’s beliefs, fear and eventual peace. I am not at all surprised by the book’s nomination for the Man Asia Literary Prize. This is a beautifully written book about places and historical periods that captures readers’ imaginations and allow the mind to fly.

Thanks to the author and to Rosie Amber, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment and CLICK!

GET MY FREE BOOKS
%d bloggers like this:
x Logo: Shield Security
This Site Is Protected By
Shield Security