Adam Lewis Schroeder’s second novel ranges from France at the turn of the 20th century to French Indochina in the 1930s. Weaving together a host of narrators and timelines, the story primarily follows the paths of two characters: Adélie Tremier and Pierre Lazarie. Adélie is a young widow suffering from tuberculosis. In 1909, she abandons her Parisian home in search of a fabled spring of immortality deep in the forests of Laos. Lazarie, meanwhile, is a romantic academic turned Saigon bureaucrat who in 1936 is sent by Adélie’s army captain son to find his long-lost mother.
The novel’s strength lies in its descriptions; the focus is on immersing the reader in a place, rather than on the plot itself. Poetic turns of phrase abound, as in Lazarie’s assessment of the East: “It is one thing to wander through Saigon to the clangour of automobile horns and say to oneself, ‘This is the East’; it is quite another to whisper it as a thousand-year-old temple juts out from a hillside to vanish the next moment behind the jungle canopy. ‘The East’ is an ever-fleeting thing.” These vivid descriptions give the reader the impression of experiencing foreign environments first-hand.
The many different time frames and locales lend the novel an almost mythic feel, but the narrative shifts are too frequent and abrupt, making it difficult for the reader to become fully engaged in the often slow-paced plot.