A pirate, a refugee, two pre-teen boys in love with speculative fiction stories, and two adult men who are friends and are each searching for what seems to be missing in their lives. Over the course of nearly a century, these disparate individuals will orbit the missing manuscript of a celebrated writer who died too young. And that manuscript will reach out to them over time and lead them through unimaginable danger to what they each, ultimately, need.
Adana Moreau, a young woman orphaned by political unrest, flees the Dominican Republic and finds herself living in New Orleans and married to “the Last Pirate of the New World,” with whom she has a son named Maxwell. She loves the science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories she borrows from her local library and decides, with the encouragement of the librarian, to write her own novel: Lost City. It is published by a small press and gains a modest amount of attention. She works on a sequel, A Model Earth, but she becomes mortally ill, and before she dies, she destroys the manuscript.
When Saul Drower’s grandfather dies, his final request is that Saul send a package to Maxwell Moreau, a theoretical physicist at the University of Chile. When the package is returned by FedEx, Saul opens it and discovers that it is a manuscript for A Model Earth by Adana Moreau. How did his grandfather come into possession of this manuscript? And where is Maxwell Moreau? Saul begins a search to find Maxwell, deliver the manuscript and fulfill his grandfather’s dying request.
In The Lost Book of Adana Moreau, debut novelist Michael Zapata tells a story that is, at first glance, a seeming series of contradictions: it ranges over nearly a century and over multiple continents, and yet it is an intensely personal story about a small group of people; it is strongly grounded in harsh realities and yet includes events that can only be explained as magical; it revolves around the status of a single manuscript and yet contains truths about the importance and power of all stories; it describes the isolation, either enforced or chosen, and the enduring and unavoidable need for connection to others.
The result is a wonderful story of resourcefulness, perseverance, and connections that transcend time, space and death itself. Zapata’s characters are diverse, engaging and fascinating. All of them, whether they know it or not, are running. Some are running from the lives they’ve left behind, while others are running toward the lives they desperately want. Even though the latest moment in the novel takes place over 15 years ago, it directly addresses continuing societal norms and institutional failings that are manifesting today during the COVID-19 pandemic, while simultaneously asserting that we will make it through this crisis and eventually rebuild, as New Orleans did after Katrina.
This novel is a wondrous, hopeful book that reminds us all of the importance of each decision we make, and the alternatives that are always before us, even when we feel like they aren’t.