Friday, July 2, 2010

Review of Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente

Between life and death, dreaming and waking, at the train stop beyond the end of the world is the city of Palimpsest. To get there is a miracle, a mystery, a gift, and a curse—a voyage permitted only to those who’ve always believed there’s another world than the one that meets the eye. Those fated to make the passage are marked forever by a map of that wondrous city tattooed on their flesh after a single orgasmic night. To this kingdom of ghost trains, lion-priests, living kanji, and cream-filled canals come four travelers: Oleg, a New York locksmith; the beekeeper November; Ludovico, a binder of rare books; and a young Japanese woman named Sei. They’ve each lost something important—a wife, a lover, a sister, a direction in life—and what they will find in Palimpsest is more than they could ever imagine."
This book is a secret, a secret that I am both ashamed and proud to reveal. From a readers standpoint it is so rare when the pages of a book will come along and wrap you up in them. Warm you with their heaviness, care for you like a child, leave you with want and worry when you are not with them. This book took me on a journey within myself that I did not know that I was ready or willing for that matter, to take. But take it I did and with it came the strongest of currents.

Admittedly I am a slow reader. But as I read the first couple pages of Palimpsest, I found myself repeating paragraphs over and over and over again. Letting my mouth taste them, savor them till I felt as if I had a five course meal. I feel as though I should be hiding this book now that its words are inside of me. As if the book itself has become its own city lost to the world and should only be graced by the eyes of few. Bury this book so that it may become an archaeologist’s find a hundred thousand years from now, so that the people of that time can share something of true beauty came when everything else seemed so peril less and without hope.

Beware; this book has a mask, a mask with horns and teeth. With this mask the unbelievers of imagination and the fantastical will surely be cast out of its realms forever never to be allowed admittance again. I write these words to pay tribute to the author, for she opened herself up and bled her dreams into these pages, bled an artwork onto a canvas that will be gazed at often on my shelves of so many places. It is one of the great pleasures of life to be able to hold a book in your hands after reading it, run your hands down its spine and feel its magic seeping into you.

The Characters in this book are well fleshed out. Their hearts and minds are sewn plainly onto their sleeves and this was also why the story was so enticing to me. I felt a little of myself in each one of the four that the book revolves around. Each one of them suffering inside, all desperate in their afflictions and destined to know one another. These are people that by the end of the book you could say that you knew well. The feeling comes to my mind, like when you are walking down the street and you pass someone, to some just a random stranger, but then your eyes meet and lock and in that very brief moment it is like you know that person, know their likes and dislikes, feel everything that pains them and what makes them smile. It’s the connection that nobody talks about but we yearn for like the feeling you get when you have been away for what seems a lifetime and finally walk through your own front door. Peace, a sighing relief, a built up tension that is finally released.

Like the tattoos of the people immigrating to Palimpsest, I will be forever marked by reading this wonderful work. I will seek deeper meaning in all because of it. I will see it on my shelf and smile to know that there are some and maybe only a select few that really feel things, read and write words that have meaning, deep meaning. Words that dispel any thought that magic in this world is lost. Thank –you.

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