cover image The Lost Civilization of Suolucidir

The Lost Civilization of Suolucidir

Susan Daitch. City Lights, $16.95 trade paper (332p) ISBN 978-0-87286-700-0

Daitch’s fantastically fun novel has shades of Umberto Eco and Paul Auster and is brainy, escapist fiction at its best. Structured like a Russian nesting doll, the book conceals several overlapping tales centered on the search for the mythical lost city of Suolucidir. The novel begins with grad student Ariel Bokser’s present-day search for the city, located somewhere in modern day Iran. The book then shifts to the heart of its story, the so-called Nieumacher papers, an inheritance from Ariel’s father (a consulting mineralogist for a mining company) that relates the narrative of Sidonie and Bruno Nieumacher’s quest for Suolucidir, beginning in 1936. The Nieumachers are husband and wife; he’s a rare-book forger and she’s a law student, and they are fleeing the West as much as they are searching East for Suolucidir. Setting off under the guidance of Bruno’s former Berlin professor, now a black market profiteer, the duo brave adversity to find the lost city, dodging British agents and Russian spies. The book then shifts further back in time to the story of Hilliard and Congreaves, two mismatched British explorers who met at the Possum Club, an explorer society, and who set off in 1914 in search of fabled fortune and instead encounter their fate. Daitch has constructed an intricate, absorbing narrative. The novel is like a Scheherazade tale, never quite giving the reader time or reason to pause. What exactly is Suolucidir? Lost city of the Hebrew tribes? A stand-in for colonialism’s heart of darkness? Wisely, the MacGuffin remains elusive. As one character says, “Invisible cities sometimes leave no trace of themselves. Who knows what cities lay under our feet?” Perhaps Suolucidir is real, and still out there, awaiting discovery. (June)