Reviewers note: Consider the term, “quasi-fiction” in the subtitle of this novel by Santiago Xaman. It’s key to reading and understanding this deeply compelling and innovative work. The book begins with two definitions of quasi-fiction: 1. A narrative combining fictional characters with published facts of minor historical significance. 2. The form of realism evoked by quasi-fictional content. Having completed the book, I find I must smile at the term, “realism,” as used in the second definition.
In this groundbreaking novel, what is real – and what isn’t – is always the heart of the matter. There are elements of reality in the fantastical, and there are elements of magic realism in the rather ordinary. After Olympus is a novel about characters who don’t just think outside the box; they are outside the box.
Intrigued? You should be. We don’t see novels like this every day, but this one will find its way into the hands of the most discerning readers.
After Olympus is arranged into six sections: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delton, Epsilon, and Omega. Yes, Greek letters, very appropriate for a work laced with mythic associations, associations that will take the reader, as the title notes. Santiago Xaman tells his story via a manuscript found on his property in California. We learn of his childhood in Guatemala in the 1950s and early 1960s, his plea to Xaman Ek, the North Star, for the power of invisibility. We meet his sister who wants to fly like the Mancho bird that nests where the rainbow ends. A fire will change the tide of Santiago’s life, eventually bringing him to the United States, where adoptive American parents raise him.
Throughout his adult life, he will live with a Russian woman raised in the communist Soviet Union and who has burdensome secrets that will impact Santiago’s life in ordinary and extraordinary ways. One night, Santiago witnesses what he thinks is a falling star but is fuselage falling from a Soviet spacecraft. The event brings two international Stanford scientists to his door and a puzzle of a quest begins, one that will encompass the themes of schism and reconciliation, myopia and sight, and inequity and prosperity.
Gus, a businessman with a dream to be the “Yahoo of the medical world,” will join this group that Santiago comes to refer to as “magicians.” They will accomplish things that might seem magical, but just as one must carefully observe a magician for sleight of hand, the reader should follow the words of this enigmatic narrative with complete focus.
The magicians’ projects include designing new frameworks to analyze and make use of neuropsychological testing, intersections of social and political media, employment opportunities for young women with small children, and a gamut of concepts intended to make the world a better place through the removal of hurdles and the dissolving of problems. If technical innovation can be decapitalized and the profits realized by those most deserving of them, the economy can be reinvented. But there are villains on the scene as well and what they do to counter the magicians’ is astounding.
The ultimate triumph of After Olympus is that it’s not just one book. It will be different books for different people. Included in it is the old and classic story of the blind men who describe an elephant in entirely different ways. What one brings to this book may influence what one thinks they’re reading. The ending alone will make readers wonder if they really know the difference between tusk and tail.
After Olympus is a superb selection for any book group interested in a novel that is so thoroughly outside the box, so uncaged, that it’s a bit wild, in the best of ways.