Title: The Map of Lost Memories
Author: Kim Fay
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: Review copy from the author
First line: At the far end of the apartment, a row of shutters opened onto a balcony overlooking the swayback roofs of Shanghai.
Goodreads blurb: In 1925, the international treasure-hunting scene is a man’s world, and no woman knows this better than Irene Blum, who is passed over for the coveted curator position at Seattle’s renowned Brooke Museum. But she is not ready to accept defeat. Skilled at acquiring priceless, often illicitly trafficked artifacts, Irene is given a rare map believed to lead to a set of copper scrolls that chronicle the lost history of Cambodia’s ancient Khmer civilization. Such a find would not only restore her reputation, it would be the greatest archaeological discovery of the century.
As Irene travels from Seattle to Shanghai to the Cambodian jungles, she will encounter several equally determined companions, including a communist temple robber and a dashing nightclub owner with a complicated past. As she and her fellow adventurers sweep across borders and make startling discoveries, their quest becomes increasingly dangerous. Everyone who comes to this part of the world “has something to hide,” Irene is told—and she learns just how true this is. What she and her accomplices bring to light will do more than change history. It will ultimately solve the mysteries of their own lives.
The Map of Lost Memories was a compelling read, one I enjoyed from start to finish. This is a work of historical fiction that drips with authenticity, and I can’t imagine how much research it must have required. As Irene traveled from Shanghai to Saigon to Cambodia, I traveled along with her, experiencing the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of Asia. I’ve always found the story of Angkor Wat fascinating, and Irene’s obsession with the Khmer Dynasty made her an intriguing character.
Irene has faced discrimination in the world of archaeology, and has been passed over for a curator position, in spite of the fact that she is the most qualified for the job and has already brought much renown to the museum. She is determined to find the lost scrolls that contain the history of the Khmer, knowing that such a find would cement her position in the world of lost artifacts.
She has been sent on her mission by Henry Simms, the mysterious and rich collector who helped raise her and gave her her passion for the past. He has set her on her path, giving her a few instructions that guarantee she will come across people he knows she needs. First there is Simone, the wife of an abusive communist radical. Then there is Marc, the enigmatic nightclub owner, who has his own connection to Simms – and to whom Irene will be passionately drawn.
In her quest to obtain her goal, Irene will find herself doing things she never could have imagined. The journey will change her, and ultimately, she will have to decide what her true legacy will be.
Fay has written an enthralling adventure full of the kinds of details that make truly great historical fiction stand out. There were a couple of sections that dragged a bit, but this is a very minor quibble. I highly recommend this to all lovers of historical fiction, as well as anyone fascinated by archaeology or a good adventure story.