Title: True East
Author: Raymond Ahrens
Format: Print copy mailed by author in exchange for an honest review
My rating: 2/5
Katy Givens, thirty and brilliant, learns in a static-filled phone call that her husband Andrew is missing in the Amazon and possibly dead. Although still mourning the death of their infant son, Katy flies to Brazil in search of Andrew, discovering that the man she married has secrets. As the mysteries surrounding Andrew’s disappearance mount, so does the list of shadowy forces benefitting from the recent discovery of oil in the Amazon.
Katy’s field of genetic anthropology proves useful when accounts of the Unnamed Ones, a primitive and possibly pre-human tribe, are rumored to exist in the same valley as the oil reserves. Katy tracks Andrew through the jungle, deciphering riddles he left before disappearing. Along the way, she barters with a Jewish coin merchant, challenges chance with a fortune teller, and argues the merits of prayer with a Jesuit priest, before placing her faith with the indigenous Tadi.
“‘Fiction, Father, is a flashlight of truth when our conscience has lost its way'” (Ahrens 331)
A work of fiction, True East delves in to several topics of exploration. At times, I felt that Katy Givens (with her extensive knowledge and practice in genetic anthropology) was like a female version of Robert Langdon – solving puzzles, finding clues, not knowing who to trust, etc. The passion for the Brazilian culture, people, and scientific processes leaps from the pages. However, I felt overwhelmed by the academia presented as there was little context provided, although a lot was said. There were several elements of the plot that seemed to fizzle as the novel continued, particularly the first few chapters were dedicated to the death of Katy and Andrew’s infant son and then the former’s addiction to prescription drugs. There could have been a more seamless thread of the themes of loss and addiction woven in the later parts of the text. Additionally, several characters’ – Mark (Andrew’s boss at the magazine Terrestrial), Jorge, Father Avila, Carla (fortuneteller), and Richard (former professor and colleague) – stories were cut short and left unfinished in the hasty wrap-up of the story. I wonder if this leaves room for sequels or spin-offs? OR we are left to our own imaginations based off the character development and ways they were left. As someone who knows very little about South America, I appreciated the perspective on Carnivale and indigenous lands and people. Creating an authentic landscape that combined tourism and native life added an exotic personality to the book.
Some thematic quotes that stuck out to me:
When discussing Walden Pond. “Concord, the home of Emerson and Thoreau, the birthplace of Transcendatalism, was now a tourist trap that sells plastic replicas of Thoreau’s cabin, rather than the philosophy of the man who built it: generosity replaced by greed” (Ahrens 134)
“‘History, Andrew says, is fiction, written by the winners to hide their atrocities. Andrew’s photographs document the losers before their way of life melts into myths'” (Ahrens 128)
Read True East if you like the themes of:
- Fate/Higher Power