The Map of Lost Memories

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Overview

Suspense and secrets are woven together in this engrossing fiction debut by Kim Fay. The Map of Lost Memories takes readers on a daring expedition to a remote land, where the search for an elusive treasure becomes a journey into the darkest recesses of the mind and heart.
 
In 1925, the international treasure-hunting scene is a man’s world, and no woman knows this better than Irene Blum, who is passed over for the coveted curator position ...

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The Map of Lost Memories

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Overview

Suspense and secrets are woven together in this engrossing fiction debut by Kim Fay. The Map of Lost Memories takes readers on a daring expedition to a remote land, where the search for an elusive treasure becomes a journey into the darkest recesses of the mind and heart.
 
In 1925, the international treasure-hunting scene is a man’s world, and no woman knows this better than Irene Blum, who is passed over for the coveted curator position at Seattle’s renowned Brooke Museum. But she is not ready to accept defeat. Skilled at acquiring priceless, often illicitly trafficked artifacts, Irene is given a rare map believed to lead to a set of copper scrolls that chronicle the lost history of Cambodia’s ancient Khmer civilization. Such a find would not only restore her reputation, it would be the greatest archaeological discovery of the century.
 
As Irene travels from Seattle to Shanghai to the Cambodian jungles, she will encounter several equally determined companions, including a communist temple robber and a dashing nightclub owner with a complicated past. As she and her fellow adventurers sweep across borders and make startling discoveries, their quest becomes increasingly dangerous. Everyone who comes to this part of the world “has something to hide,” Irene is told—and she learns just how true this is. What she and her accomplices bring to light will do more than change history. It will ultimately solve the mysteries of their own lives.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
…[The Map of Lost Memories] has qualities any reader would wish for: adventure, romance, history and a vividly described exotic setting…there is something captivating about this novel. Call it authorial confidence, a sense of place, a splendid Technicolor…It brings Cambodia alive.
—Marie Arana
Publishers Weekly
Fay’s debut novel is a thrilling mix of adventure and personal discovery set in Southeast Asia in the 1920s. At the behest of her manipulative mentor, Henry Simms, unappreciated 29-year-old Irene Blum quits her job at Seattle’s Brooke Museum and heads to Shanghai to persuade scholar-turned-revolutionary Simone Merlin to join her on a quest to locate 10 ancient Khmer scrolls, which discovery would allow Irene to open her own museum and finally get credit for her work and expertise. But when the duo find themselves with blood on their hands, they flee Shanghai and escape to the jungle. As they continue their hunt for the scrolls—pursued by authorities and keepers of Cambodia’s cultural assets—they take on additional team members. Soon, each person’s motives come to light, and secrets from the past begin to surface and threaten the mission. Setting the fraught inner terrain of her characters against the dynamic political and physical landscapes of the area, Fay crafts an intricate page-turner that will keep readers breathless and guessing. Agent: Alexandra Machinist, Linda Chester Literary. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
Praise for The Map of Lost Memories

"Fay’s exciting and exotic historical adventure set in the 1920s Far East draws easy comparison to Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder. The plot is original, and the characters are smart."—Library Journal

“[The Map of Lost Memories] has qualities any reader would wish for: adventure, romance, history and a vividly described exotic setting … There is something captivating about this novel. Call it authorial confidence, a sense of place, a splendid technicolor … The Map of Lost Memories has one beautifully met purpose: It brings Cambodia alive.” The Washington Post

"Fay’s extraordinary first novel has everything great historical adventure fiction should—strikingly original setting, exhilarating plot twists, and a near-impossible quest . . . Every word of this evocative literary expedition feels deliberately chosen, each phrase full of meaning." Booklist, (starred review)
 
"Thrilling and ambitious, this is a book to get lost in, a book that homes in on the human drama of the quest and never lets go. A rich debut." —BookPage
 
"[The Map of Lost Memories] is a thrilling mix of adventure and personal discovery set in Southeast Asia in the 1920s . . . Fay crafts an intricate page-turner that will keep readers breathless and guessing." —Publishers Weekly

"Fay’s debut is intriguing, beautifully written, colorful and multilayered like a lovely tapestry."—Romantic Times

“In The Map of Lost Memories, Kim Fay draws us into a universe as exotic, intense, and historically detailed as the ancient artifacts her unforgettable heroine seeks. It’s a deliciously unexpected journey: Indiana Jones meets Somerset Maugham meets Marguerite Duras; all culminating in a glorious traipse through a forgotten Asian world. This novel will stay with me for a long, long time.”—Jennifer Cody Epstein, author of The Painter from Shanghai
 
“Kim Fay’s engaging debut novel, The Map of Lost Memories, not only weaves together a smart, compelling story of a quest for scrolls believed to contain the lost history of Cambodia’s ancient Khmer Empire, but also gives us a glimpse into 1920’s China and Indochina during the time of transition from colonialism to the beginnings of communism. With deftness and clarity, Fay brings her world to life and gives us a captivating read.”—Gail Tsukiyama, author of A Hundred Flowers

“In The Map of Lost Memories, Fay updates the archaeological adventure tale with an ambitious heroine and a cast of morally ambiguous characters in a race to discover an ancient temple in the jungles of colonial Cambodia. Fay's assured, absorbing prose will compel readers with its lush detail, multiple plot twists and keen insight into this politically combustible period of history.”—Aimee Phan, author of The Reeducation of Cherry Truong
 
“Kim Fay breathes new and original life into the Westerner-in-Asia novel with The Map of Lost Memories, going beyond the intrigues of 1925 Shanghai to the remote reaches of the Cambodian jungle. An enchanting, absorbing first novel, all the more remarkable for its effortless portrayal of a bygone world, now nearly forgotten.”—Nicole Mones, author of Lost in Translation
 
The Map of Lost Memories is the best book I have read this year. Exotic, thrilling, and brimming with fascinating historical detail, it had me hooked from page one and sent me to a world I knew existed but never really understood, never really felt, until now. Kim Fay is a wonderful storyteller who truly masters the art of crafting a riveting story with heart and elegance. The result is utterly mesmerizing.”—Anne Fortier, author of Juliet
 
“Kim Fay writes with such mesmerizing authority that it’s hard to believe that The Map of Lost Memories is her first novel. Rarely do we find a book that combines gripping adventure with exquisitely crafted prose, but Fay’s novel does just that, bringing together the beauty and complexity of Marguerite Duras’s The Lover with the thrilling breathlessness of Indiana Jones. The result is breathtaking.”—Dana Sachs, author of If You Lived Here

 

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345531346
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/21/2012
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.64 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Born in Seattle and raised throughout the Pacific Northwest, Kim Fay lived in Vietnam for four years and still travels to Southeast Asia frequently. A former bookseller, she is the author of Communion: A Culinary Journey Through Vietnam, winner of the World Gourmand Cookbook Awards’ Best Asian Cuisine Book in the United States. She is also the creator/editor of a series of guidebooks on Southeast Asia. Fay now lives in Los Angeles. This is her first novel.

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Read an Excerpt

Part 1

SHANGHAI

From its inception as a foreign enclave, Shanghai emerged a free city. New arrivals required neither visa nor passport to enter. To the dispossessed, the ambitious and the criminal, it offered a fresh start. Lady Jellico, who was brought up in the city, recalled, “One never asked why someone had come to Shanghai. It was assumed everybody had something to hide.”

harriet sergeant,

Shanghai

Chapter 1

Desperate Weather

At the far end of the apartment, a row of shutters opened onto a balcony overlooking the swayback roofs of Shanghai. Beyond the low buildings and down a crooked street, the Whangpoo River shushed against the wharves. A heavy, velvet humidity pressed down on this dark belt of water, a perpetual tension that caused a wilted draft, lifting fumes of jasmine and sewage, coal and rotting river weed, into the thick night air.

Inside, the small living room was crowded with a dozen overheated journalists and revolutionaries, as well as the usual assortment of eccentrics that congregated at parties in Shanghai in 1925: a Persian opera singer, a White Russian baroness, and a gunrunner of indeterminate nationality. There was a priest bright-eyed on cocaine he had ordered from the room service menu at the Astor House, and Irene Blum recognized the Italian fascist she had seen the night before, parading through the Del Monte with a tiger on a leather leash. Shanghailanders never needed an excuse to gather, but tonight they had one: the return of Roger and Simone Merlin from France, where the couple had gone to raise funds for China’s Communist party.

The Merlins were late, and a restlessness that matched Irene’s stirred among the guests. She overheard the Italian fascist complain, “Bloody hot,” prompting the Persian opera singer to declare, “Desperate weather. Did you hear about the Argentine ballerina caught stealing spices in the Chinese market? She wears only Coco Chanel. Every time the peddler turned his back, she dropped another pinch of saffron into her pocket. She swears she doesn’t know why she did it. Insists the heat must have addled her brain.”

Irene understood. It was unsettling, the way the heat subverted. She had been in Shanghai only one week, but already, each day around the noon hour, when the sun was high and the city lay exposed, she found herself envisioning the most uncharacteristic acts. Stabbing a rickshaw driver with her penknife, or shoving one of the demure chambermaids down the back stairs of her hotel. Of course she did not act upon these impulses, but their eruption harassed her and caused a heat-stricken feeling of agitation that had reached a new level of intensity tonight. She had not expected to have to wait a week to meet Simone Merlin, and she was wound tight with anticipation. She could not stop watching the door. Unable to concentrate on conversation, she slipped out to the balcony, where she leaned against the railing, plucking the fabric of her dress away from her skin, seeking relief from the muggy room.

She was soon joined by Anne Howard. Anne had arranged the party so Irene could meet Simone, and yet she now said, “It’s not too late to change your mind.”

“Why are you so against this?” Irene asked.

“Darling, I’m looking out for you, that’s all. This is bigger than anything you’ve been involved with before. It’s not a jaunt to Phoenix to find out if you can detect a forged—”

“I did detect it. And I saved Mr. Simms a great deal of money on that statue, not to mention the humiliation of being duped by a greasy con man from Arizona.”

“I know you did. You’re good at what you do. I’m not denying that. But if the wrong person gets wind of this. If anyone finds out what you’re searching for. And the jungles! Irene, you don’t seem to realize what a different league you’re in with this expedition.”

“I’m in the same league I’ve been in for years.” Irene scowled at the woman she thought she knew so well.

Nearly sixty, her gray hair cut into a fashionable bob, Anne was the self-appointed head of Shanghai’s outpost of the Brooke Museum in Seattle. She and Irene had worked together from opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean for ten years, ever since the Great War broke out and Irene was given a job at the museum by its curator, Professor Howard, Anne’s former husband. Anne had helped Irene track down missing relics, providing information that could be gathered only in China.

A friend of Irene’s mother, Anne had divorced and moved to Shanghai when Irene was five. Each Christmas, she sent Irene a gift: cloisonné rings, silk slippers, a lacquer jewel box that could nestle in the palm of a child’s hand. She was the only woman, after Irene’s mother died, who gave Irene the sorts of things she really wanted. Throughout her youth, Irene read every letter Anne had sent her mother, descriptions of foot binding, imperial traditions, and the older woman’s affair with a Chinese revolutionary who had two wives. She lost herself in this exotic world the way other girls her age escaped into Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott. As teachers fretfully noted her lack of interest in domestic skills or other female pursuits, the life Anne was living in Shanghai gave Irene hope. It proved that a woman could do anything she liked as long as she did not care what others thought. Every day, with her maps and books and her dreams of lost treasures, Irene practiced not caring.

It was difficult, though, not to care about Anne’s opinion. Anne had always encouraged Irene’s dreams, and now she did not want Irene to have this one that mattered most. It made no sense.

Irene took a sip of whiskey. Already she felt a little drunk, and this was unusual, since she was from Swedish stock and could generally hold her alcohol. But there was something about the delayed buildup to this moment, combined with the sweltering climate and its intoxicating effect on the body, that made her cautious with her single malt tonight. She said, “I know the risks.”

“You’re even more headstrong than I used to be.” Anne went back inside.

Irene remained on the balcony, standing apart as she often did at parties, her intense observation hidden behind the Scandinavian coolness of her pale blue eyes. She was twenty-nine, half Anne’s age, and taller than most women, but not so tall as to intimidate men. For this she was grateful, since men, when threatened, even if only by the threat of height, were difficult to manipulate. And manipulation was essential in the world of art trafficking.

With her dark blond hair pulled back into a loose chignon, Irene had dressed in an uninterrupted flow of silk that emphasized her slender figure. Fine white Indian embroidery caught the lamplight. This was a gown she had worn often for occasions at the museum, to welcome patrons and collectors. She had been wearing it the night she greeted Rockefeller with a martini, when the Brooke Museum had been her pride. When she had been its pride—or so she had thought. She shook her head. She had to find a way to stop thinking about the museum. She had already wasted too much time on that bitterness. As she lit a cigarette, the warm stones of her carnelian bracelet slipped over the bend of her wrist. She touched them, for luck.

When the front door finally opened, Irene heard the Merlins’ names shouted out in greeting. Through the men and women who rose to welcome the couple, she glimpsed damp strands of dark hair. The honey light from an oil lamp reflected off a perspiring brow. Smoke adhered to the air. A chill, seemingly impossible in such oppressive weather, whisked up Irene’s spine.

Anne had run out of tumblers, and she descended upon the Merlins with rum sodas in coffee mugs. Drinks were raised in a hearty toast to the French couple whose support was integral to the strikes that were debilitating Shanghai’s European government and empowering the Communist party’s nationalist comrades, the Kuomintang. The Persian opera singer, whose lavender fedora sat askew on her head, giggled drunkenly and slurred, “It’s a miracle you were allowed back into the country.”

Clutching her glass, Irene peered past one of the shutters that hung slack against the balcony’s mildewing wall. Anne was pressing her way back out toward Irene, towing Simone Merlin by her sleeve. This was it. The moment Irene had been waiting for. Beneath the apartment in the well of darkness, she could hear the tenor of the city. Children laughed. Water splashed into dishes being washed while a woman mewed a melancholy folk song.

Irene had seen Simone in photographs, but details had been hard to make out. In person, the young woman was afflicted with the cadaverous complexion of many Europeans who were raised in the tropics. Her floor-length dress was nearly colorless too, as if she had emerged from a landscape by Turner. Irene could not fathom how someone so washed out and small had the stamina to raid a temple and support a Communist revolution, but the contradiction intrigued her. She had no interest in people who could be summed up in a single sentence.

“Ma chérie,” Roger called after Simone from the cluster of his admirers. “Why are you dashing away from me?”

Simone did not look back. “There is someone Anne insists I meet.”

Roger took a few steps after his wife. He appeared to be in his forties, much older than she. He too was slight in build, but he held his chin arrogantly high, and his stern intellectual’s eyeglasses deflected attention from his insubstantial physique. “Are you sure?” he asked.

It was an odd question, and Simone paused at the threshold to the balcony while Roger waited for a response. She stared stoically past Irene into the night. When it was clear that she was not going to answer, he turned to Anne’s lover, Song Yi, whose handsome face was flushed from the praise he had been receiving throughout the night for his recent translation of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto into Mandarin.

Gently, Anne asked, “How was the journey?”

“We fought the entire time. You know Roger. He doesn’t believe in compromise. I told him I intended to succeed in leaving him this time, and he tried to throw me overboard.” Simone smiled, but there was no humor in her tone as she said, “I’m lucky I’m not feeding the fish at the bottom of the Arabian Sea.”

“He sounds like a horrible man,” Irene said.

“He is,” Simone confirmed.

Irene could scarcely believe that this was her first exchange with Si- mone Merlin as she asked, “Did he hurt you?”

“I’m alive, so no, I suppose not.”

Anne clasped Simone’s hand. “He’s going to help us save this country.” She said this as if it were a consolation.

Although Roger and Song Yi were inside and speaking only to one another, Roger’s resonant voice carried to the balcony, as if to emphasize Anne’s words. “The next stage in the strikes is a necessary evil. Men will die; it’s unfortunate, bien sûr, but if we are not willing to accept the sacrifices, then we do not truly want change.” Louder, he added, “Are you listening, my dear wife? Do you hear what I’m saying? Are you ready for the sacrifices needed to achieve what you think you want? Do you have enough conviction? Strength?”

None of the guests showed any sign of embarrassment as Roger hurled this challenge at Simone. They merely watched as if the couple were characters in a favorite film serial.

“Do you?” Roger barked.

The drunken Persian opera singer leaned forward. Irene was repulsed by the greediness of the onlookers, and moved by the exhaustion in Si- mone’s expression as she stepped all the way out onto the balcony and slipped behind the shelter of a louvered door.

“You can’t hide from me!” Roger shouted.

Simone sighed. “Song Yi is lovely. I’m always envious of how calm he remains. With Sun Yat-sen’s death and these latest strikes, everyone else is on edge. And now that Roger has come back, the city is going to erupt, I can feel it. The mood is like it was in Saigon, right before the authorities burned our press.” Wistfully, she added, “I envy you, Anne.”

The conversation was straying too far from where Irene needed it to be, and she hoped she did not seem unsympathetic as she guided it around. “Has Anne told you why I want to meet you?”

“She said you’re going to Cambodia.”

Irene waited for more, but Simone was silent.

Finally, Anne spoke. “That’s all I revealed. The details aren’t mine to tell.”

Simone perked up. “Had I known I was in for a mystery tonight, I would have dressed for the occasion.”

With the woman’s attention triggered, Irene quickly introduced herself. “I’m Irene Blum, of the Brooke Museum.”

“I know the Brooke well. It has quite the layered reputation.”

Irene was pleased. That reputation was her doing, even though she had not been rewarded for it. Had not even been acknowledged, in the end. “Like you,” she went on, “I specialize in Cambodia and its ancient Khmer people. Of course, not exactly like you. I’ve never been to Cambodia, and my father wasn’t an Angkor scholar. He was the night watchman at the museum. I grew up in it. You could say I was its student. Your student too. Your monograph about celestial imagery in Khmer art is masterful.”

“Are you trying to flatter me?”

“I’m being truthful. Your life . . . it’s the life I always wanted.”

“Unhappily married to a scoundrel? I find that a strange aspiration.”

“I’m talking about—”

Anne interjected. “Simone, when Irene was nine, her mother died. Her father had the good sense not to hand her off to the first pie-baking matron who waddled along. He took her to the museum with him every night instead. She spent her childhood sleeping in the Hall of the Apsaras. He gave her a calling. A woman with a calling, now that is a thing of beauty.” She sighed. “Great beauty and great danger. Tread cautiously, my dear,” she warned, before going back inside to her guests.

“The mystery deepens,” Simone murmured.

“It is an honor to meet you,” Irene maintained, thrusting out her hand. She could feel the range of calluses on Simone’s palm, and she considered their source: the ruins Simone had spent her childhood scaling, the bas-relief she and Roger had stolen from the temple of Banteay Srei. Irene had seen the sculpted stone for herself in Seattle, and it awed her to think of Simone prying it from the temple’s wall.

Simone opened her handbag and removed an enamel compact. Her fingertip fluttered into a pad of lip rouge. She applied a thin stain, and when she finished, her reddened mouth reminded Irene of the women in the Chinese district who spat rusty betel nut juice into the street. “Are you going to tell me what you want, or do I need to make tiresome small talk for a while?”

“I’m not usually this nervous,” Irene admitted.

“Is it because you have a secret?”

“A remarkable secret.”

“If it helps, you’re not alone. Everyone who comes to Shanghai has something to hide.”

Irene contemplated the room. “That’s not how it seems. It feels as if everything here is on display. Communism, opium—”

“Cleavage and heartache? How many woe-is-me stories have you already heard of fat English husbands stolen away from their families by nubile Chinese prostitutes?”

“Too many, considering I’ve only been here a week.” Eased by Si- mone’s candor, Irene asked, “Would you tell me something about your life in Cambodia? Anything you like.”

“So, tiresome small talk it is.”

“Not to me.”

Blinking in the direction of her husband, who was declaring that the Chinese needed foreigners to show them how to rid themselves of foreign rule, Simone reached for a rattan fan that had been left on the railing. As she waved it, stirring the air, the scent of boiled ginger floated across the balcony. “I was a girl when I left. Only eighteen. I couldn’t predict how hypocritical Roger’s version of a revolution would become.”

Irene was not political, but she wasn’t ignorant either. She knew about Communists, and not just how they raided the tsar’s palaces, scattering Botticellis and Rembrandts to pay for their rebellion. She also knew they controlled the Kuomintang and wanted to take over Shanghai, and China altogether if they could manage it. But this did not interest her, despite the role she knew the Merlins played in this situation. “Do you want to go back to Cambodia?” she asked.

“I miss it.”

“What do you miss most?”

“To stand in Angkor Wat is to be humbled,” Simone said. “A temple that served as an entire city, the pinnacle of Khmer civilization, abandoned for centuries, but still, it is . . .” She eyed her husband warily through the slats in the louvers. “It is . . .”

As if facing a mirror, Irene recognized Simone’s guarded expression. “You can trust me.”

“It is holy.”

Irene heard this, holy, as if it were a password. “I’m going to Cambodia in search of a lost temple. I’m going to search for the history of the Khmer.” She had not planned to blurt this out, and she paused, rubbing her collar between her thumb and forefinger.

“Go on,” Simone urged.

The inquisitive look on Simone’s face was encouragement enough, and Irene continued, “I have a diary that belonged to a missionary. It indicates that he found a written history of the empire.”

“Anyone who has ever studied the Khmer talks of such a finding.”

“Dreams of it,” Irene corrected her. “Do you dream of it?”

“I’m not sure anymore.” Simone shifted, and with her back to the yellow light shining down from a torch at the end of the balcony, her face was hidden by its own shadow.

“I want to hire you to help me find the scrolls.”

Simone’s voice lurched. “Scrolls?”

“You’ve heard of them, haven’t you?”

“I’ve heard the rumors, like everyone else.”

“This is more than a rumor. I have a map.”

Simone grazed the fan against her cheek. “Why did you come to me?”

“You took the bas-relief from Banteay Srei. You know how to do this sort of thing.”

“How do you know about . . . Oh yes, you would know. You work at the Brooke. Are you going to take the scrolls for the museum?”

“Actually, I worked at the Brooke. There was a . . . a falling-out. So no, I won’t be taking the scrolls back there. I want them for me, to study, and I don’t plan on taking them anywhere.” This wasn’t true, but Irene could not tell Simone so. She could not risk anyone knowing that she was going to take the scrolls to America as the centerpiece for a new institution—one in which she was in charge. “But I’ll still need secrecy. You know what would happen if a single word of this got out. If anyone knew we’d found the key to a lost civilization, we’d have every archaeologist and treasure hunter out there after us.”

“Naturally.”

“I’ve heard so much about you. How you learned Sanskrit from temple rubbings while you were a girl. That you read fluently in Pali and Khmer.” Irene could not hide her envy, for the only other language she knew was French. “I want you to translate the scrolls for me. I want you to tell me what happened to the Khmer Empire.” Her fingers clenched the balcony railing. “We will be the first Westerners to know.”

“When I was a child,” Simone said, “I wrote stories about how I was going to discover new temples. My father thought I should be a novelist. I wrote the lectures I would one day present to geographical societies around the globe, and I even designed the dress I would wear on my tour. It would be made of Khmer silk, with ivory buttons carved into the shape of the rosettes that are found on the temple walls.”

The wistful moan of a conch horn rose from a junk down on the river. Irene’s beloved job was gone. Her father was dead not even a year, and Henry Simms—the man who had sent her on this quest—was dying. Soon she would have no one left, no one who understood her. But she felt this woman understood. “Then you will come with me?”

Simone looked out at Roger, slouched on Anne’s old chaise, his shoes digging insolently into a red velvet bolster. He raised his glass in the direction of the balcony. She said, “I’m sorry, Irene.”

“What do you mean?”

“You cannot begin to know how sorry I am.”

“Sorry about what?”

“I can’t go. Not now.” Disgusted, Simone said, “Especially not now. Not on the eve of my husband’s revolution.”

“But you sailed all the way to France to raise money for the strikes. I’m authorized to offer you fifty thousand dollars, but I can get more. Name your price.”

“If only this were about money.”

“Fifty thousand dollars is not only money. It’s a fortune.”

“I told you what happened on the ship. Roger will not let me leave him. He’s on the cusp of making history.”

“How long will it take?”

Simone tossed the fan on the chair beside her. “Irene, this is a revolution, not a barroom brawl. Sun Yat-sen is dead, and the parties are splintering. The power struggles alone are enough to drive Roger mad, and if he goes any madder than he already is—”

“You want this revolution more than you want the scrolls?” Irene asked. “Is that what you’re saying?”

“What I want has not mattered for a long time.” Quickly, Simone walked back into the apartment.

Simone had called Angkor Wat holy. She called her husband’s revolution hypocritical.

“Wait,” Irene said. “I don’t understand.”

But rather than explain, Simone returned to Roger, perching on the arm of his chair and affectionately setting one hand on the nape of his neck.

The night seemed to shift, as if Shanghai were settling down into its foundation. A fitful cool struggled to press in from the distant East China Sea. Irene heard propellers thrashing against the black Whangpoo River. And she wondered what in the hell had just happened, while below in the dark a melon had been split, its sweetness clinging to the humid air.

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Reading Group Guide

1. At the beginning of the novel, Irene has strong feelings about her right to possess the scrolls and the fact that her possessing them will be in the Cambodians’ best interests. How much of this mindset is justified by the era in which the novel takes place, and could this mindset—art should belong to whoever can best protect it—be justified today? If so, how?

2. In addition, when the book opens, Irene is an ambitious—and arguably self-centered—character. Did you admire or dislike her attitudes and behavior? And if you disliked her, do you think you would have found her actions and ambitions more forgivable if she were a man?

3. Because of her complexity and unpredictable irrationality, Simone is a “love her or hate her” type of person. What traits do you feel make Simone alienating and what traits make her sympathetic?

4. Perhaps Simone deliberately killed Roger. Perhaps it was an accident. Which do you think it was, and why?

5. From the debauched streets of Shanghai to the humid landscapes of the Cambodian jungle, setting serves as its own character in The Map of Lost Memories. How do you feel that these environments shaped the characters? For example, the influence of Shanghai on Marc’s childhood, and the influence of the Cambodian wilderness on Irene ’s mindset  as she treks closer toward her goal?

6. At one point in the book, Anne talks about the importance of going to the other side: “The place where one feels truly alive. Too many people surrender to a place of safety. That place where all they do is long to sleep so they can dream about living. Even if you don’t find what you think you’re looking for, darling, it’s the going out and looking  for it that counts. That is the only way you can know you have lived.” Do you agree or disagree with Anne ’s assessment of how most people live? Do you think this is what both Simone and Irene were doing over the course of the story, each in her own way? What about other characters such as Marc? Is the idea that “it ’s the going out and looking for it that counts” a motto you would live by?

7. Although The Map of Lost Memories is considered an adventure novel, it is not fast-paced. Aspects of the era—lack of airplanes, freeways, mass communications systems—contribute  to how the story unfolds. Discuss how different this novel would be if set in a later time period; for example, how the existence of helicopters or the Internet would alter such a story.

8. The Map of Lost Memories is primarily Irene ’s story, and as such is told from her perspective. If you could ask the author to insert a chapter from another character’s point of view, who would it be and why?

9. Both Irene and Simone are motivated by their own ambitions to the point of betrayal. Do you feel these women would have been better off had they been honest from the start, instead of using each other to a certain extent? Consider a woman’s position in the time period and the choices (or lack thereof ) they had regarding their futures. In that sense, do you think by keeping secrets each of them were doing the best they could to protect themselves and their futures?

10. To expand on this, the novel is full of examples of blighted ambition and characters trapped by circumstance. Do you feel that unhappiness excuses the scheming behavior or betrayals of certain characters?

11. Although there are unexpected revelations about all the characters in the novel, perhaps the most surprising has to do with Henry Simms, Irene ’s beloved mentor. Did you find Mr. Simms to be a sympathetic character? Why or why not?

12. At the end of the novel, Irene changes her mind about where she thinks the scrolls belong. Was there a specific turning point for this decision, or was this decision the result of an evolution in her thinking? Is her change of heart selfless, or is she simply turning her initial selfish desires in a new direction?

13. Similarly, in many ways, Simone is a very different person at the end of the novel than the woman Irene first encounters at Anne’s party. Discuss the path of her transformation. Are there any ways she essentially doesn’t change?

14.  What one adjective do you think best captures the character of Irene? Were you surprised by how others in your group perceived her? What are her strengths and her weaknesses? How does your perception of Irene change throughout the story?

15. The title of the novel is The Map of Lost Memories. Discuss the power of memories as a theme throughout the novel. Why do you think the author selected this title?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 24 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(11)

4 Star

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3 Star

(7)

2 Star

(4)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 24 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2012

    location location location

    If you are someone who goes on vacation and spends all of your time behind the camera viewfinder, this is not the book for you. Reading this is a contemplative journey where you will experience sights and sounds and tastes. If you are in a hurry to see everything you will miss the best of this novel. Fay has written a novel where the adventure and mayhem serves as the background for the true main character--location, location, location.
    It is evident that author Kim Fay knows Cambodia and Southeast Asia very well. Her descriptions of the culture and landscape are captivating and I found myself re-reading many passages, adjusting the greens here, the smell of the streets there. Her main character, Irene Blum, has been passed over for a deserved promotion and heads off to Cambodia to find some historical scrolls. Her motivation is really to show everyone that she has the chops as a woman in 1925, to do so. And she does have the chops. But this is where the novel became a bit disjointed for me. Lush travelogue or adventure escapade? Fay attempts both and she succeeds with lush travelogue. The adventure scenes are well written, and there is a back story that begs to be told as a prequel as well as a an opening for a sequel. By the last part of the novel, the adventure flows and meshes with the surroundings. Fay throws in a bit of moral debate regarding the rightful owners of such undiscovered antiquities that is well placed and thought provoking. I look forward to Fay's continued development of what I hope is a series of Ms. Blum's adventures.

    7 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 31, 2013

    Amazing details and exciting adventure MUST READ

    I was actually sharing this story with my girls as I read and could see the journey in my head. This is amazing and I can't say it any better than the Washington Post did so here it is. The Washington Post …[The Map of Lost Memories] has qualities any reader would wish for: adventure, romance, history and a vividly described exotic setting…there is something captivating about this novel. Call it authorial confidence, a sense of place, a splendid Technicolor…It brings Cambodia alive. —Marie Arana

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2012

    Positively Lovely

    This book is a wonderful story of self-introspection and discovering the spirit of adventure. Plus it is set in the 1920s, one of the most exciting eras in history.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2013

    A good travel book

    [ FTC rules: I recieved this book as a giveaway from GOODREADS and the publisher Random House. All opinions are 100% mine]

    This book is a great travel book. Kim Fay's descriptions are wonderful. Unfortunately, her characters are insipid. The book should have been called: "The Manipulator ", as the person that "hires" Irene either buys, steals or is related to most of the characters that populate his life and this book.

    I am a big mystery reader, but I found that I just didn't care if they ever found the artifacts, or made it back to wherever they came from. There us a lot of drinking and some violence in this book, and you are lead to believe that it's important to the story. It is not.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2013

    Disappointing

    I really wanted to like this book, but sadly I don't. The characters make no sense and the writing is flat.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 2, 2014

    This is not my usual type of book. But it sounded so interesting

    This is not my usual type of book. But it sounded so interesting, I had to read it.
    What a good decision.
    I was fascinated and engaged from the start. A young woman who is passed over for a position she had felt sure she was destined to get. No official degree and a woman. That was it. She could stay and help the young (with a degree) man who got the position.
    Not likely.
    She heads off to Cambodia to prove her worth and has amazing, but quite believable, adventures.
    The personal anguish, the difficult choices and people, the life threatening experiences--it is all very exciting.
    Will she complete her journey and find what she is looking for? Can she trust the various people with whom she is aligned?
    It's well worth reading to find out.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2014

    disappointed

    was a bit slow moving, didn't feel much for the characters

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 7, 2013

    Set in exotic Shanghai, the book takes the reader from the uninh

    Set in exotic Shanghai, the book takes the reader from the uninhibited lifestyle of the wealthy but bored ex-patriots to the mysterious and unpredictable jungles of Cambodia.  The quest for the lost temple, while packed with action, is also an excellent examination of the evils of colonization.  This heinous practice left a lasting stamp on the native people of the conquered lands.  So offensive was the treatment of the native population by the vanquishers that hundreds of years later, that the effects remained, even hundreds of years later.
    Ms Fay's book is a page turner.  Character development is well done.  The reader is able to imagine him or herself in the roles ot the central characters.  An excellent read for lovers of history.

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  • Posted July 19, 2013

    I thought this book really had potential (in my last review, I g

    I thought this book really had potential (in my last review, I gave it four stars), but I became less engrossed in the story towards the end. What started out as a very promising journey involving four unlikely people turned into a blase version of Indiana Jones. I understand there will be a sequel, but I probably won't be reading it.

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    Posted May 2, 2013

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    Posted September 8, 2012

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    Posted June 12, 2013

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    Posted December 11, 2013

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    Posted March 14, 2013

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