Two strangers are unknowingly connected by a rare manuscript.
Maxwell Moreau, born to a pirate father and a Dominican immigrant mother in New Orleans in 1920, has a childhood in which he is surrounded by his parents’ stories. His mother, Adana Moreau, learns to read in English with Maxwell at her side. She writes a well-received science fiction novel, Lost City, but becomes gravely ill before finishing the sequel, A Model Earth; she and Maxwell burn the manuscript before she dies . The pirate travels north in search of work, and Maxwell is effectively an orphan when his father fails to meet him as planned in Chicago. Nearly 80 years later, a man named Saul is grieving the death of his grandfather, his only family after his parents were killed in a terrorist attack in Israel. Shortly before dying, his grandfather had asked Saul to mail a package for him to someone named Maxwell Moreau at a university in Chile. When the package is returned some time later, Saul takes on the task of finding Maxwell, now a well-known physicist who theorizes about parallel universes, to give him the papers inside—the same manuscript Adana Moreau had burned so many years earlier—and fulfill his grandfather’s last request. This search takes Saul and his friend Javier to New Orleans just after Hurricane Katrina, and the two reflect on their friendship and Saul’s grandfather’s work as a historian as Javier documents the extensive loss of life in an effort to bear witness. Zapata’s debut novel is a wonderful merging of adventure with thoughtful but urgent meditations on time, history, and surviving tragedy. The characters are richly drawn, and the prose is striking: “They drove east, back the way they had come, and the road seemed to take on an extra-temporal quality, like they were traveling backward in time. We’re already meeting ourselves coming the other way, he thought as the Cadillac sped on and on and on.”
A luminous novel about the deep value of telling stories.