Andorra: a campy adventure

After reading three books with rather heavy content for Booking Around the World, I decided it was time for a lighter read. A palate cleanser, if you will.

First off, I was silly in thinking that finding a work of Andorran literature translated into English would be an easy task. Sadly, Catalan is not a language I have chosen to conquer yet, and it happens to be the national language of Andorra, this tiny country in the middle of the Pyrenees, between Spain and France.

As I said before regarding Booking Around the World, I am trying to read different selections than the ones that Ann Morgan chose for her Year of Reading the World. However, after much research on Andorran literature, I realized my choices were going to be limited. I went back to her review for some insight and discovered that she personally got in touch with Andorran author Albert Salvadó. In the end, thanks to Ann Morgan’s research, I finally settled on a selection. Morgan read The Teacher of Cheops, which seems to be Salvadó’s most noteworthy work. The only other book of his available in English ended up being my selection: The Phaeton Report (ISBN-13: 978-1502723420).

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I am all about literary palate cleansers. I, for one, am not the type who can read War and Peace and The Brothers Karamozov in a quick succession. As monumental as books like that are, they can also be tedious and draining. Sometimes you just need to give your mind (or your heart) a break. After three books on war and terrorism, The Phaeton Report seemed to be just what I needed.

The Phaeton Report is the story of an established writer who stumbles upon a secret society. Driven by his thirst to find great content for his next novel, he takes up an offer by several members of the society to join them, and this quest shakes his entire knowledge of the history of mankind.

This book does not fit into one particular genre. I would call it a sci-fi mystery thriller, at times reminding me of The Da Vinci Code, or even National Treasure, if we’re allowing film comparisons. Salvadó clearly did his research, providing dozens of factoids on outer space, ancient cultures, and even the Bible. I appreciated his pacing, slowing down to meticulously explain research but never bogging down the reader with information overload. Salvadó’s voice is direct; he rarely takes time to wax poetic – save for a few moments of delirious, almost hallucinogenic revelation – which I think works for a book of this genre.

Where this book fell apart for me was the unconnected dots. The premise of the book itself already requires a good amount of suspension of disbelief. That I did not mind. However, for a main character who is otherwise portrayed as highly intellectual, he rarely seemed reluctant to accept new clues or information he was given. For someone who is basically thrown into an entirely new world, this seems a little suspect. There were moments in the novel where I had to chuckle at how similar the main character’s reaction was to those people who wear tin foil hats. Salvadó attempts to tie together loose ends near the conclusion, and also sprinkles in those moments of incredulity I had desired, but at that point, it almost seemed too late.

Overall, I still enjoyed this book. I appreciated Salvadó’s clever re-envisioning of many well known stories, such as the tale of Noah’s Ark. If you enjoy historical mysteries, I would definitely give this one a go. The Phaeton Report is not as polished as the writing of some bigger name authors, but nonetheless I think many will find this book to be a fun, engaging read.

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