At the turn of the 1990s, a team of young hotshots and middle-aged artists and teachers work for an R&D spinoff of a Microsoft-like corporation in the Seattle area. Their project involves computer-generated virtual realities. At roughly the same time, a 33-year-old American teaching English in Beirut is taken hostage by Arab terrorists and remains in their grip for more than 2 years. Their stories cross in the end, in a somewhat mystical way. In this, his seventh novel, Powers once again offers clashes and collaborations between art and science (the VR team works on, among other things, recreations of the environments of Henri Rousseau's jungle-like "The Dream," Van Gogh's bedroom in Arles, and the great mosque of Istanbul, Hagia Sofia), a multicultural cast of characters, passing and deep references to Shakespeare, Yeats, Dickens and Bach, and the joyous play of words and ideas. After the hostage pleads for a book and finally receives one from his captors, the narration says: "Gorgeous human thoughts detonate in space all around you, extending their subordinate clauses, flinging their nouns around like burgeoning tracts of starter homes airlifted into arid wastes." Reading Powers is a lot like that. More than any other author I have read, he conveys the FEEL of ideas when they strike you.
This report prepared by David Loftus