Waiting for Columbus (DO NOT ORDER - Canadian Edition)

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Highly acclaimed Canadian novelist Thomas Trofimuk bursts onto the international literary stage with this dazzling novel, rich with all the emotional intensity of The English Patient.

In a Spanish mental institution in 2004, a man who believes he is Christopher Columbus begins to tell his story. Nurse Consuela listens, hoping to discover what tragedy drove this educated, cultured man to retreat from reality. This Columbus is not heroic: he falls in love with every woman he ...

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Westminster, Maryland, U.S.A. 2009 Hardcover 1st Edition New in New jacket Book. Signed by Author(s) McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, 2009. Hardcover. Book Condition: Very Good. ... Dust Jacket Condition: Very Good. First Edition. 8vo. pp. 400. Signed and dedicated by the author on title page. Read more Show Less

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Highly acclaimed Canadian novelist Thomas Trofimuk bursts onto the international literary stage with this dazzling novel, rich with all the emotional intensity of The English Patient.

In a Spanish mental institution in 2004, a man who believes he is Christopher Columbus begins to tell his story. Nurse Consuela listens, hoping to discover what tragedy drove this educated, cultured man to retreat from reality. This Columbus is not heroic: he falls in love with every woman he meets, and, on land, he has absolutely no sense of direction. More troublingly, he is convinced a terrible tragedy is coming. Yet with each tale, Consuela draws closer to this lost navigator.

Waiting for Columbus is richly imagined, cinematic, and often playful; a novel about truth, loss, love, and hope by a writer at the height of his powers.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Canadian writer Trofimuk’s uneven novel begins with an inspired premise: a man claiming to be Christopher Columbus shows up at an insane asylum in contemporary Spain. Under the care of a nurse named Consuela, he begins to tell stories of Columbus’s adventures, remembering some and reliving others. It is interesting enough at first, but the blending of then and now gets tiresome and hokey (as when, after strenuous intercourse, Columbus watches TV). Also, Columbus is a voracious lover who speaks in purple prose about how much he loves women. The women, real and imagined, likewise find him irresistible. (Indeed, even Consuela falls hard for Columbus.) Meanwhile, Interpol declares the mystery man “officially suspicious” and dispatches an agent specializing in cold trails to track him down. Trofimuk never quite pulls together a cohesive narrative; the imaginings of a mentally unwell man hold some promise, but too many developments are murky and inexplicable. (Aug.)
Kirkus Reviews
A mysterious inmate in a Spanish asylum believes he's Christopher Columbus-and to complicate things further, his psychiatric nurse begins to fall in love with him. Trofimuk (Doubting Yourself to the Bone, 2005, etc.) creates all kinds of mysteries to surround the man brought to the Institute for the Mentally Ill in Seville: his perplexing appearance at the Strait of Gibraltar, his hallucinatory incoherence, but most particularly his resolute conviction that he's the famous explorer, ready to embark on a 15th-century adventure. As "Columbus" spins amazing tales of previous lovers and of his obsession with navigating to new worlds, Nurse Consuela Lopez is drawn into the force field of his personality. She finds herself intrigued, then fascinated and finally seductively attracted to this baffling figure. The first psychiatrist who tries to make sense of Columbus' situation fails miserably, but the more sensitive and intelligent Dr. Balderas works tellingly to figure out the mystery. Meanwhile, in a narrative that eventually converges with the story unfolding in Seville, Interpol investigator Emile Germain tries to track down the identity of the enigmatic "explorer." In a spasm of emotional complication, both Emil and the patient are attracted to Consuela. Dr. Balderas tries to make sense of Columbus' warped psychological state by explaining that he is "suffering from something we big-brained doctors call a dissociative break . . . Sometimes, when a patient is faced with an overwhelmingly traumatic situation and there's no physical escape, the patient will resort to going away in his or her head." It turns out that Balderas' intuitions are correct; Columbus has indeed experienced a traumathat has exerted psychic pressure on him to escape. The recovery of his original self is devastating to Consuela, for she has fallen in love with the persona of a 15th-century explorer, and when the mask falls, her Columbus vanishes. Moderately interesting, but not riveting.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780771085468
  • Publisher: McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
  • Publication date: 8/25/2009
  • Pages: 408
  • Product dimensions: 5.83 (w) x 8.54 (h) x 1.17 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas Trofimuk’s first novel, The 52nd Poem, won several awards, and his second, Doubting Yourself to the Bone, was a #1 bestseller (Edmonton Journal) and a Globe and Mail Best Book of 2006. He lives in Edmonton with his wife and daughter.
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Read an Excerpt

When Bolivar opens his eyes two days later, he is calm and seems rational. He’s restrained in the bed and there is still one policeman outside in the hallway — just in case. The guard sits straight in a wooden chair to the left of the door. He checks the identification badges of everyone who enters, makes a note on his clipboard. This is Consuela’s fifth time in, and the guard barely looks at her.

“¿Qué día es éste? Por favor.”
The new patient stares at Consuela. His voice is demanding, almost commanding. It’s a voice that is perhaps used to giving orders. His head is lifted and he’s trying to see what it is that’s keeping him down in the bed.


“¿Qué día es éste? What day is it?”

“It is Sunday,” Consuela says.

“Sunday? What date?” He pulls at his wrist restraints, still checking.

“Sunday, the fourth day of April.”

“April? You mean August. Where am I?” He flexes against the ankle restraints.


“How did I get here? What happened to me?”

“You were brought here —” She stops.What exactly can she tell him? She’s not sure.

“I was in Palos. It all went sideways. There were two girls. Are they all right? Everything went horribly wrong…” But his voice trails off as if he is slowly finding the answers to his own questions.

“I was in Palos. I remember broken glass. People shouting. The ships were in the harbour.” He stops. He looks at her with such expectant eyes. “And?” he says. “And?”

What did this man want? And what? What is he looking for? What was he expecting to hear? Consuela shrugs and looks at him hopefully, looking for help.

“Why am I tied to this bed? I’m perfectly fine. My ships, though. Have they … have they sailed?” He’s irritated. Yanks at the wrist ties.

“Ships?” She’s thinking she should probably not say any more. There ought to be doctors here. The psychologists at this asylum are some of the best in the world. In the institution’s lengthy history, they’d had people from all over Europe as patients — even a couple of kings and a few wayward princesses had called this place home for brief periods of time. It had been one of the first asylums in the world to actually attempt to help the mentally ill — to get at the root cause of an illness.When it first opened, so-called treatments in other parts of Europe were still muddled in the casting out of devils or burning people or drowning them as witches — remarkably final and fatal cures — while the Sevilla Institute was actually caring for the mentally ill. This place, this hospital of innocents, has been a relatively safe haven for many, many years.

“I’ll get a doctor,” Consuela says, turning.


She stops.

“Get me a phone,” he snaps. “I want to make a call.”


“A phone damnit. Look, I am Columbus. Christopher Columbus. I know the queen, the queen and the king. They can vouch for me. I am to lead three ships across theWestern Sea. We’ve got a deal, damnit! Just get them on the phone.”

Whoa, she thinks. Consuela can hear the earnest certainty of his voice. He believes what he’s saying. “You want to fall off the edge of the Earth?” Consuela is performing her own little experiment. “You want to die?”

“You don’t believe that. Nobody but a simpleton would believe that old wives’ tale. Try not to underestimate my intelligence and I’ll do the same for you.”

“I’ll let Dr. Fuentes know you’re awake.”

“Yes, let your doctor know that I’m hungry, and I have to piss, and I’m not crazy.”

She shuts the door — the click echoes in the stone hallway. Consuela walks past the admitting desk and around the corner to Dr. Fuentes’s office. She knocks on his door. Waits. Knocks again.

The door squeaks open, slowly. “Yes. What is it?” He says this with the bearing of someone who has been doing something frustrating and this intrusion is the icing on the annoyance cake. Dr. Fuentes is a tall, clean-shaven man who is a fastidious bureaucrat. He’s just been appointed chief of staff at the institute. Consuela is honestly uncertain about his skills as a doctor.

He holds the door open with one hand and fumbles with his labcoat buttons with the other. The sound of a chair scraping on a tiled floor comes from inside the office.

“Patient 9214 is awake.” Consuela decides she does not want to know who else is in there. Damnit! She hates stuff like this — office politics. Knowing the human contents of Dr. Fuentes’s office would put her in the middle of something. There was no scraping sound, she tells herself. It was nothing. There was no scraping.

“Thank you.” The doctor releases the door but catches it immediately. “Wait. Is he still sedated?” She nods. Fair enough. There was no way to know for sure if this new patient was going to explode again or if he was done.

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Reading Group Guide

1. Which character is your favourite and why?

2. Could you guess the ending? At what point did you figure out the mystery?  

3. Is Columbus’ madness justified? Do you think Dissociative Identity Disorder is a legitimate coping strategy?  

4. Waiting for Columbus is set in the 21st and 15th centuries. Why did artifacts from the 21st century start to appear in the 15th century?

5. Who is waiting for Columbus?

6. Do you think Emile and Consuela get together and live happily ever after? Could you imagine that happening?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 9 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 1, 2010

    Waiting For Columbus a great mystery and love story

    Consuela is a nurse at an insane asylum in Sevilla, Spain. When a man is brought in who insists that he is Christopher Columbus she is curious about who he is and what would cause him to break from reality so.

    His is a wonderful story teller and as she listens to him tell his stories, Consuela finds herself falling in love with a man who, is some ways doesn't exist.

    Through his stories the book moves from modern day to historical day. Sometimes Columbus slips up and brings modern day tecnology into his historical stories.

    Unknown to consuela an interpol agent is searching for a missing man who is thought to be suspiicious.

    I thought this was a wonderful book and I have recommended it to many readers.

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  • Posted March 10, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    wonderful- 5 stars

    A man is found washed up on the Spanish shore of the Strait of Gibraltar. He insists that he is the legendary Christopher Columbus and is taken to an insane asylum in Seville. Consuela is a nurse at the asylum and the man who calls himself Columbus tells her his memories/stories. But his stories seem to be mixed in with modern life.

    Emilie works for Interpol and begins tracking a missing man that has been declared suspicious. As he tracks his mystery man, Columbus enthralls Nurse Consuela with his stories and she begins to fall in love with him.

    my review: I loved this book, it was so well-written and beautiful. I would read just a couple of chapters a day as I really wanted to savor this amazing work.

    As Columbus tells his tales, one can feel how haunted this man is and as he nears the end of his stories, his fear of what he will discover about himself, if he lets go of his conviction that he is Columbus. The author moves back and forth from the the fifteenth century Spain to the present and while some may not like that kind of writing, I felt that it was perfect for the story.

    It is hard for me to review this book and do it justice. But once I finished it, I understood why Rebecca from The Book Lady's Blog could not stop raving about this book on twitter.

    Let's just say it is amazing, touching, thought-provoking, amusing, compelling, and brilliant and leave it at that!

    my rating 5/5

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  • Posted October 4, 2009

    Waiting for Columbus is a well-written character study on the insane and the people who work in mental institutes.

    Waiting for Columbus is the story of a man in a mental institute in Spain who believes he is Christopher Columbus. Since he was pulled out of the Strait of Gibraltar, who he really is and how he came to be there is unknown. As the staff at the institute try to unravel his story he slowly begins to charm them, reveling a compelling intelligence. He tells tales of Columbus' life to his lovely and devoted nurse Consuela until the tales start to lead gradually into his own. Also in Spain is Inspector Emile Germain searching for a mysterious man who disappeared from the scene of a crime.

    If you believe, with every fiber of your being, that you are Christopher Columbus, does that make it true? How do you know when you are sane, or not? Waiting for Columbus is a well-written character study on the insane and the people who work in mental institutes. The people in the book are infinitely human and it is possible to imagine yourself in their situation. Heartbreaking as the story is, yet it is filled with gentle, sometimes pointed humor. The places where Queen Isabella collides with modern day are very funny and provide some good comic relief to the intensity.
    I listened to the audio version of this book, beautifully read by Grover Gardner.

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  • Posted August 26, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Is He Really Columbus?

    Reading this book I was reminded of a similar book I read by Timothy Findlay called "Pilgrim." In that book a man in a mental hospital is treated by Karl Jung and remembers past lives as famous historical figures. In this book a man in a mental hospital in Spain claims to be Christopher Columbus. The hospital also has a woman who claims to be The Pope. Columbus is very amiable and his nurse Consuela takes an immediate liking to him. She is fascinated with his dreams and other tales of how Columbus met Beatriz and got his ships.

    Consuela starts checking the information given by Columbus on the Internet and finds everything to be fairly factual (note: the author obviously took great pains in doing research and should be highly commended for that). She obviously finds Columbus attractive and must wrestle with her own conscience which tells her it is morally and professionally wrong to get involved with one of her patients.

    In the meantime Emile, a police officer is investigating a crime that seems to point to the mental patient Columbus as a prime suspect.

    I really enjoyed how the author presents details of Columbus' history in a very interesting fashion. He could have done a very effective historical novel on Columbus too. This book drew me in from the start.

    One of the drawbacks in the history is the talk about the people believing that you would sail off the end of the flat Earth if you sailed west. The current concensus seems to be that the whole flat Earth thing originated in a Washington Irving novel about Columbus published in the 1800's and was not really fact.

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  • Posted July 17, 2009

    On Waiting for Columbus . . .

    A sensual kind of novel that was easy and enjoyable to read. A man is brought to an institution, he truly believes he is Christopher Columbus. He tells wonderful stories with a charisma that draws people to him. He tells stories of his desire to find the new world, stories of women he has made love to and how that loving feels, stories of his doubts. Are the stories real and true, or are they lies? Like Consuela in the novel, you will begin to fall for Columbus yourself!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted November 9, 2010

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    Posted June 17, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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