Senlin Ascends: Book 1 of the Books of Babel
Josiah Bancroft. CreateSpace, $13.99 paper (370p) ISBN 978-1-4825-9095-1
The honeymoon trip of Thomas Senlin and young bride Marya becomes a nightmarish plunge into the darkest of unknown territories in this engaging, multilayered mystery/adventure. Senlin, a headmaster and teacher, wants to fulfill his dream of climbing the mysterious, though widely venerated, Tower of Babel, but Marya vanishes from the teeming bazaar at its foot. In this debut novel, Bancroft turns Senlin%E2%80%99s search for Marya into a clash of na%C3%AFve belief and hard-earned experience. Encountering indifference and mockery, Senlin forges links with others who have lost family members or otherwise are victims of oppression. In a medley of bizarre, intensely imagined scenes, Bancroft evokes the tormented world of Kafka%E2%80%99s Josef K. as Senlin evolves from a standoffish academic to a morally committed participant in the problems of others. Repeated early references to Senlin%E2%80%99s reliance on The Everyman%E2%80%99s Guide to the Tower of Babel suggest that his dilemma is an encapsulation of universal experience, a message ironically underscored by the isolation of his quest. Emerging clues about Marya%E2%80%99s whereabouts lead Senlin to forge a pact with painter Philip Ogier, who seeks to recover his own missing treasure. Bancroft succeeds amazingly in creating a baffling world that offers little tenderness or hope, but in which pursuit of instinct and love, dedication, and shared sacrifice can overcome barriers. If he sustains the tone of quirky menace in his planned sequel, the reader will find much to applaud.
Reviewed on: 11/11/2013