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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 trauma that 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.

Pub Date: Aug. 25th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-385-52913-6
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2009