Book Review — Travels in Elysium

In April, I found an unexpected message in my email inbox. It was from Iridescent Press, which had been given my name as a potential reviewer for one of its upcoming releases, Travels in Elysium, by William Azuski. This became my introduction to NetGalley, a digital review service where “professional readers” (such as librarians, bloggers, booksellers, educators, and those in the media) can obtain free advance copies of forthcoming books from publishers for review.

I could hardly turn down such a request, and so I registered for NetGalley, downloaded the book onto my Kindle, and began reading.

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A metaphysical mystery set on the Aegean island of Santorini

It was the chance of a lifetime. A dream job in the southern Aegean. Apprentice to the great archaeologist Marcus Huxley, lifting a golden civilisation from the dead… Yet trading rural England for the scarred volcanic island of Santorini, 22‑year old Nicholas Pedrosa is about to blunder into an ancient mystery that will threaten his liberty, his life, even his most fundamental concepts of reality.

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Pay close attention to that description as metaphysical mystery. If you’re looking for something like “Indiana Jones and the Lost City of Atlantis,” you won’t find it here. In fact, you may need to keep a dictionary at hand for some of the vocabulary. The linguistic simplification forced by many American presses onto their writers is absent in this work. Comparisons in my mind ran to authors such as Umberto Eco and Gabriel García Márquez, not Ernest Hemingway. This is not a novel for the casual reader.

Like Eco and García Márquez, Azuski conjures a remarkable sense of an exotic place. The reader is immersed in the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feel of Santorini under the military junta of the early 1970s and in the mystical reality that intersects with the mundane world. Main character and narrator, Nicholas Pedrosa, immediately finds himself caught up with people and events he doesn’t begin to understand. What happened to his predecessor? What is archaeologist Marcus Huxley really searching for? What is Atlantis? For that matter, what is reality?

Azuski combines aspects of mystery, philosophy, history, archaeology, and mythology in weaving the story. Nicholas Pedrosa spends much of the book searching for meaning and sense around him, and I often had a similar feeling of being “at sea” while reading the story. Some readers may take this as a weakness in the writing, but I suspect Azuski wanted exactly such a reaction from his audience. We are with “Nico” on his journey. We are meant to question not only what we read and what it means, but also our own preconceptions and ideas.

This is an original take on the Atlantis myth, and Azuski’s writing style complements the complexity of the various story lines. Descriptive passages at times match the pace of life in a place not fully in the modern world. But when that modern world intrudes, the writing shifts to meet it. His characters are complex and offer insights into the mysteries and ancient puzzles that surround them as they delve into a lost city—and into their own thoughts and beliefs.

Again, this book is not for those interested in a quick read or an adventurous romp through Atlantis. But if you enjoy literary fiction that makes you think, then I recommend Travels in Elysium. My best advice for reading it? Heed the words of archaeologist Marcus Huxley: ‘Trust no one. Believe no one. Question everything. Remember, there is nothing here you can take at face value… No — not even yourself.’

Travels in Elysium is now available in bookstores and with online retailers in both paper and electronic formats.