Reading: Michael Zapata
Prairie Lights — Wednesday, Feb. 12 at 7 p.m.
The Lost Book of Adana Moreau
By Michael Zapata — Hanover Square Press
A Model Earth, the tale within a tale central to The Lost Book of Adana Moreau, is a science fiction story that involves travel between multiple dimensions. It is the manuscript that Saul Drower finds in his grandfather Benjamin’s possessions after his death, and sets out to deliver to Maxwell Moreau, son of its author, Adana. The debut novel from University of Iowa graduate Michael Zapata that frames it also travels, but decidedly not in a science fiction sense. It is a distinctly realistic amalgam of multiple threads of meaning, examining notions of infection, memory, storytelling and loss.
“If you think about it,” the old, mad pirate tells Maxwell, “everything is a disease. Youth is a type of disease-in-waiting.”
The Lost Book of Adana Moreau is a type of axiom-in-waiting. It is sprinkled throughout with truth after truth, exquisite moments of arch language. How likely is it that every character has a deep wisdom to share — that insight is always no more than a page turn away? Well, if you accept the premise of this book, it’s pretty damned likely.
The argument being made is that every person has a story worth hearing, if only we can each become better at listening. Zapata extols that virtue again and again over the course of his multifaceted fable. He weaves it into every aspect of the lives he examines, including as the key trait of the primary influences on his main characters. Maxwell’s father is described on the very first page of the book as someone who “loved listening to most anybody who had a story to tell.” Saul is raised two generations later by Benjamin, a man described in the exact same words.
“Every telling of an event is a portrait of the teller and not the event itself,” Javier, a reporter who joins Saul on his journey to find Maxwell, recalls Benjamin Drower advising him. This nugget of wisdom stands out as speaking of Zapata himself. What rises to the surface of this narrative are the stories that Zapata needs to put into the world — stories of true events, however fictionalized, that he is adamant be told.
This book is deeply respectful of science fiction, yet it is also critical. Javier tells Saul, of the temptation to ponder alternate dimensions, “To think of all those other Sols on Earths we can never see is to relinquish her history, no matter how terrible. It denies her existence on this Earth.” Instead, Zapata clearly posits, we would do well to listen better to the multiple stories available to us here.
Through litanies of the names of overlooked poets and science fiction writers of color, through multiple survival stories from New Orleanians in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, through deep and heartbreaking asides about Argentinian and Bolshevik revolutionaries, Zapata shows that the multiverses we crave are contained within each person, each event. Every new story we hear is a parallel universe in our own backyard, if only we cultivate the ability to listen.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 276.