Irene Blum’s world is falling apart. Certain that she’s going to be appointed curator of the museum where she works when her mentor retires, she’s devastated when the board appoints someone else instead of her. Though it’s 1925 and the position of women is uncertain, Irene thought that her hard work and determination over the course of her life would pay off. Then her mentor, Henry Simms, gives her a task; go to Cambodia and find ten copper scrolls that depict the history of the Khmer people. Irene has always loved Cambodia and learning that her parents were there before gives her a new incentive to go. Armed with knowledge and taking a few people with her along the way, Irene’s journey is about more than ten scrolls; it’s about finding a purpose in her life beyond a single museum.
I heard quite a bit about this book when it came out and I was really looking forward to reading it for its UK paperback release, which took place last week. I mean, it sounds fascinating and has some of my favorite elements; it’s historical fiction, centered around museums and exciting artifacts, and had the potential to delve into the history of the Khmer people. I’ve never been to Cambodia or to see Angkor Wat, the legendary temple complex that they built, but it’s on my wishlist of places I’d love to go, and so the setting was bound to captivate me. And while that happened, what was lacking for me was the characters.
The main character, Irene, does visibly grow and change over the course of the novel. Her life doesn’t go as she expected, and rather than break, she bends and grows stronger because of it. Her plan falls apart, so she puts together a new plan and forges forward. Despite this, though, I never felt that I liked her very much, nor did I really feel for any of the other characters. I got the feeling that certain revelations were meant to be deep and insightful, but I wasn’t there with the characters. I was never quite interested enough in the outcome of the story to actually pick the book up when I wasn’t already in a convenient position to do so. It was fine while I was reading it, but I wasn’t drawn in, and I didn’t feel that I was really experiencing an adventure story as I might have hoped.
All that said, there are certainly great points to this novel, and it’s been appreciated by plenty of other people. The writing is well done and I liked the atmosphere that it evoked, especially towards the end when Irene finally makes it to Cambodia. I think it’s more a book about one woman’s discovery, rather than quite what I’d expected. If you keep that in mind, I expect you’ll enjoy The Map of Lost Memories a great deal more than I did.
All external book links are affiliate links. I received this book for free for review.