Indiana Jones, make room for Irene Blum

January 7, 2013

Ballantine Books sent me an advanced, uncorrected proof of Kim Fay’s The Map of Lost Memories. Because I’m not going to check or read the finished book, note that the final novel may have been revised.

After reading the uncorrected proof, I think Kim Fay’s novel is brilliant at times, average at times and sometimes falls flat then revives to be brilliant again repeating the cycle. In fact, Fay’s descriptions were so vivid they transported me to Shanghai, Saigon and Cambodia, and I could smell and see these exotic places—some I have visited and Fay’s descriptions rang true.

The main character in The Map of Lost Memories is Irene Blum, who in 1925 slams into the glass ceiling and is passed over for a job she deserves, the curatorship of the museum where she grew up and then worked. Instead, the job goes to a man who has the proper credentials even though he does not have Irene’s experience or global connections.

This leads Irene to steam across the Pacific to resurrect her career by finding several copper scrolls that record the lost history of Cambodia’s ancient Khmer Empire (802 – 1431 AD).

Irene’s first stop is Shanghai where she is sucked into the power struggle between the nationalists and communists and barely escapes with her life. Her next stop is Saigon and from there she travels to Cambodia with her motley crew, visits Angkor Wat and then is off to discover a lost temple in Cambodia’s rugged northeast near Laos that may be the rival of Angkor Wat.

Along the way, she collects a crew of dysfunctional allies each with his or her own agenda. There is the drug-addicted Simone Merlin, who appears to be a dedicated communist out to save the poor Cambodians from being exploited by the French colonial powers.

Then there is Louis, a world renowned scholar of the Khmer civilization and Angkor Wat, who was a childhood friend and former lover of Simone.

Irene also finds romance with the mysterious Mark Rafferty, who is linked to her mentor Henry Simms, a wealthy and powerful old man dying of cancer and another reason why Irene is racing to find the copper scrolls that will reveal the history of the Khmer empire ruled by Jayavarman VII (1125–1218), the last of the great Angkor kings.

At one time, the Khmer Empire was one of the most, if not the most, powerful empires in Southeast Asia. In fact, recent satellite images have revealed that Angkor Wat, the capital of the Khmer Empire, was the largest pre-industrial urban center in the world at that time.

However, history reveals there will always be empires that rise to flatten other cultures and countries and then fall. For example: the Aztec, Han, Inca, Roman, Spanish, French, British, Greek, Persian, and Egyptian. I doubt that the future will ever see Italy rise to equal the Roman Empire.

The Khmer Empire of Jayavarman VII was no different.

I enjoyed this novel and if you enjoy an Indiana Jones adventure, this book is for you. At the end of the novel, I had a feeling that we may see more of Irene in subsequent novels as the adventure continues.

Discover China’s Three “Journeys to the West”

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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