Debut author Xaman explores the nature of truth and reality in this philosophical mystery novel.
In December 1978, Santiago Xaman (who shares the author's name) is cleaning up at the small, remote compound in the Santa Cruz Mountains that he inherited from his deceased adoptive parents. He sees a shooting star crash to the earth and travels to investigate it the next day: “As I get closer, I realize that I’m looking at a thing metallic, like a car wreck, but not that big. I see its jagged edges, as if the metal’s been torn, like a crumpled wing off some huge robotic insect.” It appears to be a Soviet satellite, and soon other men arrive: Stanford University students Holmes and Melek. They help Santiago explore the wreck, in which they discover a cache of three mysterious playing cards. The find seems to fulfill part of a prophecy that Santiago heard as a child in Guatemala, which also said that he “must find the three magicians and steal their wings” in order to fly high enough to see the “Truths of the universe.” With the help of a translator Tasha, the three men set off on what becomes a six-decade journey to discover the secrets of the satellite—a trip that will lead them to a place where mythology, espionage, science, and psychiatry converge. The book is presented as the work of Santiago himself, as pieced together by his younger friend, Aliya Hathaway, in the year 2038. Author Xaman makes use of these metafictional flourishes to play with the reader’s sense of reality, and they do so quite effectively. The prose is rich and laden with a sense of the unknown, sustaining tension even in otherwise lax moments: “He walks with a limp and uses an ornate wooden walking stick to get around. But there’s nothing slow about his attitude—I see him as dangerous, actually.” This is a novel in which the ground keeps shifting beneath the reader’s feet, and there are plenty of shocks along the way. Readers drawn to headier types of mysteries will find this one to be an entertaining puzzle to solve.
An ambitious, reality-questioning tale of hidden signs and old secrets.