Santiago Xaman lives in a cabin in the Santa Cruz Mountains when, on a fateful night in the early 1970s, a Russian spacecraft bearing a coded message crashes nearby. Santiago’s life was already unusual: he was adopted by Americans as a young child from an obliterated Guatemalan village and was given a prophecy and the power of invisibility by an ancient deity named Xaman Ek. Two scholars, E. Balthazar Holmes and Dennis James “Melek” Malchior, show up on his doorstep inquiring about the crash, and their work decoding the mystery of the spacecraft starts a lifelong philosophical, scientific, and business collaboration as the Elephant Club. A much more shadowy figure follows them to Santiago’s door, who forces Santiago to pass along his friends’ work, on threat of his family’s life.
What seemed like it might have been the unraveling of the mystery of a Cold War Soviet conspiracy, AFTER OLYMPUS actually deals with a quieter conspiracy in the shadows, across regimes and decades, that has very real implications for the America we know today. Why do we think the way that we do? Why are Americans so easily lied to? Xaman plants nibbles and breadcrumbs about what’s really going on, but the bulk of the story becomes more about the individual lives of the members of the Elephant Club: Santiago, Holmes, Melek, and Orlando “Gus” Gaspard Merced. They meet to discuss their various business and scientific projects, though these discussions tend not to be as substantive as one might wish and there are several red herrings that not only mislead but are simply never explained or returned to. There are some fantastical elements as well, but they are so infrequent that the reader may find themselves wishing there were more. If Xaman wanted to write a whole book in the magical realist style of the Guatemalan village of Santiago’s youth, this reviewer would happily read it. Sadly, that was only one chapter.
All this being said, however, Xaman’s writing is eloquent and thoughtful and his male characters are well drawn. Some of his women are vivid and intriguing, but they overwhelmingly feel like a missed opportunity as a they rarely speak for themselves, especially Natasha, Santiago’s partner, who starts off vivacious and mysterious, but whose increasing silence becomes frustrating. However, AFTER OLYMPUS is told primarily through Santiago’s voice or editorial choices, and becomes more frenetic as his faculties start to slip and Natasha voices concerns about his mental state. So perhaps Santiago is not as reliable of a narrator as he once seemed.
A well-written and philosophical mystery, Santiago Xaman’s AFTER OLYMPUS meanders through a clandestine rumination on the meaning of life, love, thought, and the economy.
~Meaghan O’Brien for IndieReader