Title: Waiting for Columbus
Author: Thomas Trofimuk
One Sentence Summary: When a man washes up on a beach claiming to be the famed explorer Christopher Columbus, he’s transferred to an insane asylum where his nurse, Consuela, tries to help him find his way back to reality.
One Sentence Review: Trofimuk’s twisting narrative explores struggle and how we deal with tragedy through a mystery story I did not want to stop reading.
Long Summary: A man washes up on a beach and insists he is famed explorer Christopher Columbus. He’s taken to an insane asylum, but maintains his story. And he’s convincing — convincing enough that his nurse, Consuela, actually starts to believe him. After some time, Columbus starts to tell his life story to Consuela. The director of the asylum decides the best way to cure Columbus is to listen to his story and try to figure out what happened to him, and Consuela is the person to do that.
Soon, Consuela finds herself falling in love with the dashing, womanizing Columbus. It doesn’t take long, however, for his story to begin falling apart. Pieces of technology start coming in, facts that don’t match the historical record emerge, and even Columbus starts to realize he doesn’t make sense. At the same time, an Interpol agent named Emile is also looking for Columbus, but we really don’t know why. Quite a mystery!
Long Review: I decided to read this book after reading a story about making the audio book version of this piece. In that post, the audio book publishers said,
[My husband] got the first crack at Waiting For Columbus and after reading the first chapter, insisted that he himself was going to narrate! He pre-read the whole of the book and finished right before dinner one night. Fork midway between plate and mouth, he stopped, started crying and left the table. He walked the dog for an hour and a half. All because of Waiting For Columbus. Of all the books he has narrated, this had never happened before. When he came back from his “time-out” I suspiciously queried him as to whether the book was that maudlin. He shook his head and only said “You’ll see.”
With a build up like that, how could I not want to read this book? Luckily, it came from the library right before I was going home for a weekend where I was able to find the time to actually read it. And read it I did — the book is 336 pages long but I read it in only a few hours. I haven’t done that with a book in a long time, partly out of time constraints and partly because I haven’t found a book that I wanted to just consume all at once.
Plot is one way that this book sucks you in. Within the first few pages we meet the man claiming to be Columbus. He is absolutely convinced that’s who he is, and his conviction is so real I wanted to believe him. It doesn’t take long for his story to begin coming unraveled, however, and from that moment on it’s a race to the end of the book to figure out what could have possibly happened to cause someone to crack like that.
The supporting characters are equally as compelling. Conseula, Columbus’ nurse, was my favorite. She’s also struggling, struggling to find herself, figure out what she wants, deal with the pressure of her nearly perfect sister and her family’s expectations for her. And falling in love with Columbus… that doesn’t really help either.
There are others that are equally well-drawn — the director of the hospital, the Interpol agent trying to track down Columbus, and the character’s in Columbus’ story. All of them are sort of stewing around, being damaged and trying to help themselves while they also try to help Columbus break out of whatever event sent him into the tailspin where he can’t even remember who he is.
The narrative structure of the book is a little challenging — it doesn’t go in a straight linear order, but it wouldn’t have worked if it did. The book jumps back and forth between the present and 1400 as Columbus tells his story to Consuela and those who will listen to him. Trofimuk does a fantastic job of building the story, slowing revealing details that show what is happening, and the mystery is a huge part of the fun.
The book is hard to put down. As Columbus’ story unravels, it was temping to try and put the pieces together for myself and guess what happened, but I honestly couldn’t do it. What ends up being the result was exactly right, but of course I’m not going to tell you what that was (even if I desperately want to talk about it with someone!). Suffice it to say, this book is one that’s definitely worth reading
If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!