This ecological novel follows an eclectic group of geniuses who are trying to rescue a Mediterranean island.
Bart Beasley, a Canadian author of “novelistic memoirs,” returns to the island where he lived for several years during his adolescence. He feels Cyprus could use help with a handful of concerns, from desertification to rising sea levels that threaten sea turtle hatcheries. So Bart procures money from a foundation and puts together a think tank of specialists with their own areas to tackle. American Jewish neurologist Albert Vygotsky, for example, carries out a double-blind experiment on enhancing mirror neurons to “convert bullies into buddies.” With luck, this will settle the long-standing animosity between Turkish and Greek Cypriots. But the think tank members often fall into misadventure, usually through no fault of their own. Meteorologist Gayle Drake-Larkin and nutritionist Jasmine Ivory distribute Gayle’s “Rainfall Superpowder” via plane. But on the ground, locals dismissing the Superpowder’s purpose accuse the women of being American spies. There are also romantic entanglements in the think tank, specifically a series of mostly unreciprocated crushes. Gayle seems drawn to Bart; she disregards English zoologist Darcy Peatman’s affection for her. All the while, the think tank checks off a few successes. Darcy helps save sea turtles and Jasmine gives Cyprus a healthier diet (including banning British chips from menus). But as narrator Bart teases early on, someone “intent on sabotaging” his “benevolent scheme” may see to it that these geniuses’ efforts go to waste.Lockridge concentrates more on the compelling characters than their endeavors and island locale. Each think tank member, for example, has a striking backstory. Archaeologist Melusina Frei is “saddled” with a grandfather who belonged to a Nazi think tank, and Jasmine faced endless trials as a Black woman with anorexia. The geniuses run into trouble on Cyprus as well. Albert endures both an investigation and serious accusations regarding his experiments. It’s hardly surprising that Cypriots receive much less of the spotlight, with the exceptions being Armide Asani, a Sunni Muslim, and Renaud Remis, a Christian Greek. But their involvement in the plot links strongly to the think tank. All this focus on the cast produces a deliberate pace, although the compact novel (under 200 pages) is still a fast read. Surreal moments further boost the enjoyable narrative, often tying into the island’s rich history. These include Bart’s search for French poet Arthur Rimbaud’s supposedly abandoned notebook and impersonators of long-departed authors showing up on Cyprus and staying in character, sparking conversations with the dead. At the same time, the story boasts amusing morsels, such as Gayle’s precarious piloting skills, which incite Jasmine to pop Valiums and Bart to momentarily regret his atheism. Lockridge’s concise prose offers vivid descriptions, from a darkening sky hovering over the ordinarily “sun-drenched isle” to the six think tank members relegated to one suite that features a “mosquito-ridden bathroom.” Scanlon’s black-and-white sketches enrich the pages and intriguingly give animals, like a sea turtle and an agama lizard, more detail than humans.
An engaging tale of the ups and downs of outsiders’ interventions.