Palimpsest is a story about four characters as they struggle to discover the connection between them and the titular city. The story has four separate beginnings, where each of the characters wakes up and reminisces about a night of perfect sex with a stranger. There is Oleg, a locksmith in New York City, Ludovico, who is a librarian and bookseller, November the beekeeper, and a student from Japan named Sei. After they wake up from their sleep, each of them find a small tattoo on their body that forms the vague shape of a map. Each of them experiences one day where they travel and attempt to find the city, eventually arriving after performing another sexual act with a person. As it turns out, in order to enter the city of Palimpsest one has to be engaged in some form of sex with someone who is already a member of the city. Only then will the person be granted entry into the city for a single day, where they will find something that they have long desired. Essentially, the experience of the city is based on the notion of a sexually transmitted disease, where someone has to give access to another in the same way that people give themselves over to another during sex. Oleg begins his journey first in Palimpsest and finds that the daughter that he lost is actually in the city. In order to gain access to her he comes into contact with a man who promises him another tattoo map if he allows him to have sex with him. Oleg gives in after having some disturbing images broadcast into his head by the man, but in the end, he is not given a tattoo and is ejected from the city the following day. He searches for another person to give him access to Palimpsest, but is unable. November experiences a much darker plot, where she has two of her fingers cut off and is covered in bee stings which scar her in the real world. She tries to find a way to immigrate to the city on a permanent basis, but she is ultimately rejected as well. Ludovico awakes in the city to find himself in a library, a place of perfect happiness for him. Unfortunately, he begins to encounter people who claim to be war veterans, who tell him that he will not gain access to the city on a permanent basis unless he is willing to give up part of himself, which they have by showing him various limbs that have been blown off and replaced with animal parts. Ludovico's story ends with him chopping off one of his hands to the amusement of the veterans, who assure him that he will also not gain access to the city for more than a day. Sei, the most innocent member of the quartet, finds herself on a train in Palimpsest that resembles those of her native Japan. On the train she sees that everyone is in black and white except for an old man, who is in color. She sits next to him but he tells her to go away because he has seen too many horrors in the city and knows that although she wants to stay there, she should not. Sei is polite and remains seated next to him, so the old man tells her the secret of staying in the city, but it is never revealed directly to the audience. The scene pulls back from Sei, and describes how the city, like human desires, will always be there.
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Best part of story, including ending:
The story was amazing because it was not afraid to leave its characters unhappy and destitute.
Best scene in story:
The best scene in the novel is when November is covered in bee stings in Palimpsest and then the wounds transfer to the real world.
Opinion about the main character:
For the most part, Ludovico is a bit of a coward, and his one courageous act throughout the story was having sex with a stranger. This was frustrating because one more bold move could have saved him from his perpetual unhappiness.