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A mixed bag, but overall enjoyable
on February 17, 2012
Disclosure: I received a free e-ARC copy of this book from netGalley.com in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for the opportunity to read and review this book!
In France, an archeologist discovers Neolithic skulls in a cave - many of them with holes drilled in their forehead, others with flint arrowheads still stuck in their bones. In Cambodia, in one of the many fields of jars in the Plain of Jars, ancient skulls are re-discovered - all with holes drilled in their foreheads. Now old intellectuals - former Marxists, all - from all over the world are being murdered horrifically - is there some connection between all the skulls? What was it that the Communist regimes in Russia and Cambodia were trying to accomplish - the Russians in the 1920s, the Cambodians in the 1970s?
This is really a mixed bag. On the one hand, the information about Cambodia and the Pol Pot regime is chilling and quite interesting. The descriptions of the locales were well-done and created lush landscapes in my mind. On the other hand, the author has a real problem with meta-exposition. You know what I mean; it usually goes something like this: "OK, fellow [whatever it is they are doing]; while we are in the car traveling to [wherever they are going] to do [whatever they are doing], tell me the plan again." At which point the characters have a discussion about things they obviously already know and have planned, but which needs to be provided to the reader somehow. Similarly, characters will say something like: "OK, I know you know all about [event in history/personage of interest] but I'm going to tell you all about it anyway" and proceeds to provide a didactic and annoying lecture. There were also several weird and quite confusing descriptions given, including one case where a water buffalo was "belligerently munching ferns." *scratches head* How one would belligerently munch ANYTHING, let alone ferns, I have no idea. There was a scene where one of the characters went to a former Soviet province near the Black Sea - it was described as sub-tropical, but cold - with palm trees. My husband, who grew up in the Soviet Union, says that area is warm enough to swim in the sea in January, and sees snow maybe once a year. Obviously this part of the book was not very well-researched; there is mention of the ice cream stands being closed for winter, which is absurd - Russians eat more ice cream in the winter!
To make it even more interesting, there were a series of "umm, what??" moments that were enough to make me make faces like: @@ o.O and other such. For instance, we learn about a Cambodian family who were high-level members of the society - practically royalty - before Pol Pot, and afterward they fled to the US, returning to Cambodia when things calmed down a little. In their house, they display various Hindu and Indian demons. This was very confusing to me. Also, at one point the author mentions something that really blew my mind - picture this: Muslim rappers. O.o right?
However, there is also a great deal of very interesting information; I don't know how much, if any of it, was based upon factual events, but the historical bits are very interesting and I did learn some new things. Also, there were some really interesting ideas presented about guilt, the conscience, and belief - belief in deities, belief in superstitions, belief in ideologies - just belief - that I found fascinating and while I wish these ideas had been more developed, presented earlier in the book, etc., I still enjoyed that a great deal.
I'm not sure why I was so hyper-sensitive to so many things - I think that normally I would not even notice them. But for some reason, they jumped out and bit me when I was reading this book, and for that reason I found it less enthralling than I perhaps normally would have. However, folks who enjoy thrillers, especially ones based upon historical events and archaeological findings, should enjoy this book.